OK then, you asked for it. I posted this on our private game forum as a 'tween session action and Marvin the ARVN has asked me to crosspost it here.
Numbers, numbers, it was all god-rotting numbers on slips of vellum. The story they told was not a pleasant one. Two, Three, Four and Six Cohorts were all down to half strength. Eighth Cohort had been all but eliminated as an armoured fighting force having lost 80% of its heavy armour and infantry. Ninth (Penal) Cohort had been virtually wiped out, and I had pardoned the handful of penitents who had survived, allowing them to return to regular duty. Even the Household Guard, left "safe" in Divisional HQ had suffered serious casualties acting as a flying reserve to hold the line.
Krom! It was going to take some time to recover from this "Endeavour". Better hope the god-rotting Interrogator's god-rotting jump routes were worth the cost we'd paid for them in blood.
My brooding was interrupted by Antonio Fenducci, my aide and apprentice, who had also survived what the soldiers called "The Belly of the Beast". He seemed to have recovered from the experience, although it did seem to have robbed him of some of his former youthful exuberance.
"Trader Regent Hartek?" He ventured. "There's a Sergeant Talon of the 1st Cohort Household Guard to see you, sir."
"Excellent." I said, casting the hated paperwork aside and standing up from my desk. "Send him in."
Moments later Fenducci returned followed by a familiar figure. The scarred and hardened face spoke of a soul who knew only battle, and even here in his formal dress uniform he carried the air of a savage warrior about him. He stood to attention and brought his right hand smartly to his chest, open palm faced downwards, in the new salute that I had only just instituted amongst the House Armsmen. I returned the salute and Fenducci turned to leave.
"No Antonio, stay for this. At ease, Sergeant. You're looking well. I trust your wounds are healing?"
The sergeant shrugged. "Fine sir. Was just a scratch really Warmast... er I mean Trader Regent." I couldn't help but smile as the grizzled sergeant backpedalled uncomfortably from the gaffe.
"Don't fret, Sergeant. A lot has changed since last we met, and I sometimes lose track off all the bloody hats I have to wear these days. No man who bears arms at my side need fear retribution for saluting the wrong one."
"Yes sir. Thank-you sir."
"I heard about your actions on the surface. They didn't quite make it into the official report, but Lieutenant Ivanov tells me you saved his hide at least once out there."
"To be honest, sir, I think we were all just busy saving each other's hides, most of the time. Rest of the time we were just looking out for ourselves." I nodded, understanding what he meant. Ninety percent of cases of so-called "battlefield gallantry" were just blind reflexes and random chance kicking in before the person had a chance to think about the situation. Most sane and sensible people would simply run for cover and never come within a million mile of the battlefield again, had they the time to think about it properly.
"Nevertheless, a job well done. You're obviously aware of our losses?" The Sergeant nodded. "There's going to be a major shake-up as we re-organise the House troops in the aftermath of Operation Innoculatus. We're going to need men with your skills more than ever Sergeant."
"Yes sir. I'll do my duty, sir."
"I said men [i]like[/i] you, Sergeant. Not you personally." Had I drawn out my battleaxe, and smashed it fully into Sergeant Talon's face, the look of shock and surprise it bore could not have been more perfect. I permitted myself an evil chortle and the thought of the ill turn I was about to do the poor Sergeant, and made a note to reward him properly once he had fulfilled the duty I was about to give him.
"I have a special assignment for you, Talon. I need you to take over the training of a very small unit, to bring them up to the standards where I can get the best use out of them. Start at the very beginning - physical training and conditioning, unarmed combat, firearm combat and maintenance, small unit tactics and battlefield awareness. Then take it up to operational level tactics, logistics, principles and application of leadership and any other specialties you happen to have under your belt. Do you understand the nature of this duty I place upon you?"
"I...er.... well not really, sir."
"Fine. Ensign Fenducci, front and centre." To the boy's credit, the look of shock and absolute amazement lasted only a couple of seconds before he stepped forward smartly and came to as passable imitation of attention as I'd seen him manage.
"Sergeant Talon, meet your special assignment." The look on both their faces as they did a classic double take was the funniest thing I'd seen since coming aboard this god-rotting ship, and could barely manage to keep a straight face, turning away for a few moments to regain my composure as the news sunk in.
"You once told me, Sergeant," I continued, turning back to Sergeant Talon "that if I gave you shit, I couldn't expect you to make anything but shit out of it. Well I happen to think I'm giving you rather better than shit this time. Fenducci has fought at my side in at two actions and saved my life at least once. Potential he has aplenty, what he lacks is what you can teach him. I give you the boy. Give me the officer."
"Antonio," I went on, turning to Fenducci and reaching up to grip him by the shoulders. "I've been unfair to you. I promised your uncle I've give you an apprenticeship and to teach you my trade. I've tried to show you and pass on some of what I do by making you my aide. But the truth is, normally a soldier must have learned certain basics before he's ready to take on that position. You skipped that phase, and doing so has put you in far greater danger than I have any right to demand of my men. It's a mistake I'm now putting right."
I grabbed a piece of blank vellum and hastily scribbled out a note, then fixed it with both the Warmaster's and the House Dureen seals. I folded it, then handed it to Talon. "This ought to help with the process." before he had a chance to look at the note's contents, I barked out "Special training detail. Ten-HUT." Both veteran and youth came to attention smartly, the sergeant tucking the unread note into his belt. "Dis-miss." Two hands snapped up to their chests in unison, and I returned the salute before Talon and Fenducci turned and left the briefing room.
I chuckled at the thought of what Talon would make of the note when he read it. "In the name of House Dureen, by the order of Kilgrim Hartek, Rogue Trader Regent, Warmaster and Sworn Armsman to House Dureen. The bearer of this bond, Sergeant Talon, acts with my will. In the matter of resources required to carry out such duties as I have assigned to him, deny him nothing." Sometimes it's good to be the Rogue Trader.
I'd deliberately tasked the Sergeant with teaching Fenducci elements of the art of war that were, so to speak, above a humble sergeant's pay grade. If I'd read Talon right though, he wouldn't baulk at the duty and by being forced to teach such subjects would through necessity learn them himself first. Potentially I sought to gain two fine staff officers out of this exercise.
I sat back down at the desk, and sighed deeply. Where would I find a new aide who could mix a Hartek Fruit Daiquiri as well as Fenducci? Oh well. Chalk it up as one of the burdens of command.
With the weight of numbers against me, I hurled myself back into an all-out-attack against the paperwork.
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: THE SAPHIRUS 1-1S2M3, SAPHIRUS SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
With the dust settling after the battle, we set about cleansing Saphirus 1-1S2M3 of any remaining taint, not that there was much to be found other than the bodies that were awaiting incineration, a number if buildings in the settlements that needed disinfecting, and heretical graffiti that required removing. We left a number of cleanup teams along with survey teams on the world, and passed instructions to The Anvil and The Lux to retrieve them once their relocation mission had been completed. The Rogue Trader Regent dispatched a team of the hydroponicum specialists to Dropas to learn more about the techniques and conditions required to cultivate the Hartek fruit, and I dispatched a team of Tech-Priests to staff the growing human colony and aid with any research. On the return run, the shuttle was loaded with a good supply of the unusual fruit; it does rather appear that Hartek still suffers from his strange addiction. The Furnace of Redemption then began the slow journey to the outer edge of the system, preparing to make the warp jump back to Footfall.
The journey was interrupted as we were caught in the fringes of a warp storm, however, despite his initial error, Navigator Proscesu redeemed himself by expertly steering us around the disturbance. Mind you, any praise for the man was held back as when we jumped into the system we found ourselves three weeks journey from the centre...
I filled my time creating a gift for the Interrogator Helbrech; as we had left the underground chamber on Saphirus 1-1S2M3, I had collected the severed head of Divine Vengeance with this plan in mind. Obviously, with the loss of his Assassin, Helbrech would find himself more vulnerable than usual, so I resolved to use the remains of his Acolyte and create a specialist servo-skull, dedicated as a blade wielding bodyguard. I coated the skull with the same synth-skin that Divine Vengeance had used in life, and dulled the metallic parts with an anti-reflective coating. The finished familiar was difficult to detect, unless you knew what to look for, and I was quite pleased with my efforts.
Once this was complete, I spent some time searching through the cogitators to see what information I could uncover about our newest member of the command staff, Lieutenant Ivanov. I was curious what would cause him to leave his career in the Imperial Navy, to join our fledgling Dynasty. The records were still incomplete, and no doubt will be updated by the Adepts at Footfall during the next roster updates, however, I was able to discover that Ivanov was one of the few survivors from the Naval vessel, The Fearless Hunter, which was destroyed in circumstances not recorded in the files.
That avenue of investigation exhausted, I set my cogitators examining the many recorded files from my surveillance devices in place throughout the ship, and whilst the majority of the information I gathered was mundane, I did come across an interesting recording from the Rogue Trader Regent's office.
Hartek appeared to be fighting with the mounds of data-slates scattered over his desk, which I assume contained the details and the minutiae involved when running a vast Rogue Trader House, however, he was interrupted by a figure slipping into his office. The figure was cloaked, but stocky and obviously male, with oriental features, heavily tattooed with dragon motifs, and missing two of his fingers on his left hand.
Hartek spoke; "Is it done?"
The figure nodded. "It is done. To a degree. Although more time would be better, as would some sort of field training. Would you like us to continue, or shall we leave at Footfall?"
There was a pause as the Rogue Trader Regent appeared to consider his answer, then he cleared his throat before speaking again. "Do you believe they are ready?"
"I would say it would take another three to six months to turn them into something that would be effective..." The stranger answered. "At the moment they are adequate."
Hartek nodded. "I will communicate with your mistress and arrange payment if you would be willing to continue the programme?"
"Additional payment is unnecessary. The deal was for us to complete the programme, no matter how long it took. If you wish us to stay on for the additional time to ensure they are to a higher standard, we will do so." The tattooed man responded.
Again, Hartek nodded. "Make it so please!"
The tattooed men bowed slightly and turned to leave, but before he exited, he spoke again. "I suppose the first test will be those you pointed out to us..."
There was a soft thud as the office door closed behind him.
Hartek looked up slightly and spoke to the empty room; "And that's none of your bloody business Nicander!"
Despite myself, I smiled inwardly. I had not hidden the fact that I monitored areas of the ship to keep abreast of developments, and it was nice to see that the Rogue Trader Regent had not looked directly at any of the recording devices, so it was probable that he did not know for sure, and simply assumed I had not excluded his office. It was also interesting to note that he was not upset by my actions; after all I had proven how useful recordings of meetings could be after our initial disagreement with General Sinclair on Malfi. I agreed that generally speaking, the conversation was none of my business as Hartek had suggested, however, I also recognised the tattoos as those displayed by members of the Black Dragon gang who we had commissioned to construct our asteroid base. I knew that the Black Dragons were also a criminal enterprise, and knowing what I did with regard to Hartek's shady origins, and that he was not averse to taking "direct action" I felt my curiosity piqued by the clandestine meeting and while I would do nothing to interfere I did decide to see whether I could uncover more data to shed some light on the subject matter.
The days passed and we arrived at our newly completed asteroid base in Footfall. We made the minor repairs needed to the Furnace of Redemption, and began the process of resupply the vessel for our next trip into the Expanse.
++ LOCATION: ASTEROID BASE ALPHA, FOOTFALL SYSTEM, THE CAULDRON ++
Interrogator Helbrech asked to speak to us before he left the ship, and he thanked us for our aid. The Rogue Trader Regent nodded, and handed the Interrogator a simple vellum scroll, upon which was inscribed the names of all of those that had given their lives for the Emperor and Omnissiah during the battle with the foul forces on Saphirus 1-1M2S3. Helbrech paused as he accepted the scroll, and then spoke in a sombre voice;
"I know a place where this will be looked after for as long as the Imperium stands. These good servants of the Emperor will not be forgotten."
"Thank you Interrogator..." Hartek replied. "Until we meet again." And the two men shook hands.
"Hopefully it will be in better circumstances! Helbrech smiled.
I stepped forward, and spoke to the Interrogator; "We all serve the Omnissiah, the Emperor, in our own ways. Often we are called to make sacrifices beyond that which most people understand, and often we serve far beyond the expectations of others. Many of your servants fell in battle, if I could have salvaged them all for you, I would have, but unfortunately I could not. I hope that this will protect you until you can add to your team once more. I believe she would be pleased to know she serves the Emperor beyond her death..." And I guided the servo-skull I had crafted from the remains of Divine Vengeance over to its new master.
Helbrech looked a little shocked initially, but accepted the gift gracefully, and gave his thanks. It was my belief that he appreciated my efforts; however, both Hartek and the Navigator spoke to me later, and suggested that the Interrogator may not have believed that the fallen assassin would appreciate her remains being used in such a way.
I do not understand why the flesh bags get so attached to their bodies, after all, they are just a means of transport...
As they boarded their shuttle, Bolke quickly disappeared into the cabin, but Helbrech turned on the threshold of the door; "I'll probably be seeing you around..." Then he followed his Sergeant.
On the journey into the system, Ivanov had spent some time with the good Sergeant, and had attempted to recruit him for the Dynasty, however Bolke had refused, simply saying that he had a "Debt to pay." Ivanov knew better than to push the matter further, but did ask if Bolke could recommend good people. The Lieutenant was rewarded with the flicker of a smile, and told to visit a tavern called the "Spit and Grit" which was apparently popular with veterans.
We turned our attention to replacing the men and materiel that we had lost, and using the information that Ivanov had gleaned from Bolke, and was able to attract a large number of experienced veterans - obviously the influence of our Dynasty was growing. The new troops were used to fill the ranks of two complete Cohorts, and as replacements in the units that had not suffered too badly. Hartek amalgamated the survivors of the Second, Third, Fourth, and Sixth Cohorts into new formations forming two full Cohorts putting our infantry strength back to full establishment. He also created a new formation of a dozen grizzled veterans as a personal guard which he named the "Housecarls", and began equipping them with the best equipment money could buy. He managed to locate a cache of unusual twin barrelled hellguns, which he had engraved with the house crest, and the muzzles modified so they had a likeness of his face, with the blast emanating from his open mouth! I am sure that the Chirurgeons that specialise in psychological medicae would have something to say about that, but the weapons do look suitably imposing...
In addition to the new infantry, Lieutenant Ivanov had spoken to some of his contacts and had managed to secure thirty Hellhound armoured vehicles to help replace the some of the tanks destroyed in the battle with the corrupted forces on Saphirus 1-1M2S3.
Although the Furnace of Redemption was a high quality ship, there were a number of things that I was not happy with. During the refit on Malfi, I had sourced some turbo-batteries to update the Pyros melta-cannons, and while they did their job, there had been a number of minor niggles with them which I discovered had been due to some low quality components. Through my contacts within the Holy Mechanicus, I had learnt that the parts I would need to upgrade these components on our ship were sitting in a vast warehouse, and after some negotiation, I managed to acquire them for our house. The net effect was that the range of the melta-cannon battery was increased by 33%.
During the upgrade, I was contacted by the Tech-Priest captaining the Explorator Scout Vessel, The Omnissiah's Will. The vessel had jumped into the Footfall system a few days previously, and was en route to our asteroid base. The Tech-Priest reported that he, and his ship, a heavily modified Cobra Class Destroyer, were now under my command. I was surprised by this unexpected turn of events, but, as the Captain explained, it seems that the exploits of House Dureen had been reaching the right ears back in the Calixis Sector, and we were starting to be supported behind the scenes at least, by people of importance. I reported the development to the Rogue Trader Regent, and after explaining that such vessels were not warships, carrying no offensive armament, but were crammed with sensorium arrays. We quickly decided to use our new resource to explore nearby systems and warp routes, allowing us far greater opportunities for profit and new discoveries. As an added bonus, when The Omnissiah's Will docked at our base to allow her Captain could make the necessary face to face introductions to myself and the Rogue Trader Regent, a Cohort of veteran Skitarii warriors disembarked. These experienced tech-troops had been detached to my command to replace the combat losses that the Mechanicus leadership in the Calixis Sector assumed (correctly) that our forces would have taken during our time in the Expanse.
On a more personal level, the Commander of the Skitarii, Tribune Goerth, carried with him another gift for me; the most exquisitely engineered and maintained Mezoa pattern meltagun I had ever seen. I accepted the gift with the reverence it deserved for the spirit of the Omnissiah was clearly active within this weapon, and then I dismissed the troops to their new posts.
Shortly after The Omnissiah's Will had departed on her scouting mission, we had additional arrivals; two modified Light Cruiser Class vessels, The Aquila, and the Stormwalker, had been detached from piquet duty on the borders of the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse, and again, on the orders of someone nameless but powerful, sent to aid us with our search for new systems and warp routes. In the same way that the Mechanicus Explorator scout was, they were weak in combat terms when compared to line ships of the same class, and individually they were also as also less effective explorators than The Omnissiah's Will as the standard of equipment was not of the level the Adeptus Mechanicus could provide. However, working as a team they would cover more space in more detail than we could possibly hope to survey on our own. We welcomed the ships and their crews to our Dynasty, and sent them on their way.
It was two standard months before we were ready to journey away from Footfall again, and it was only a matter of days prior to our scheduled departure when received a flurry of astropathic reports from our assets scattered around the Expanse.
The Aquila and the Stormwalker had found a single system of interest and were in the process of cataloguing it in detail, however of more interest were the reports we received from The Anvil in the Saphirus System. During their transit runs shifting equipment to Dropas, they had detected an anomaly the inner asteroid belt of the system, near Dropas, and after investigating they found an ancient derelict Heavy Cruiser class vessel. The report was slightly vague, and did not include many details which initially puzzled me; however, as I read on it became clear why. The first survey team that boarded the ship had been clumsy beyond belief, and triggered some sort of power surge which damaged the mighty vessel, and incidentally killed all who had boarded her. I cannot say I was upset about this; the useless fleshbags had damaged this great treasure and I would have taken the same approach that Hartek followed with his junior officers, and expressed my disapproval with a bolt pistol had any survived. I read on with more dismay; a second survey team had been landed, this time commanded by Captain McFallon herself, these idiots had obviously not spoken the correct litanies to the proud machine spirit of the warship, and it had retaliated with self-defence systems that killed the Captains team. Apparently the Captain herself survived, but was critically injured. I only hope that the vessel has been placated by the sacrifice of those who dared defile her.
The report we received from The Omnissiah's Will was more mixed. She had found an inhabited system with a number of warp routes, however, there were already warships present; the Frigate and three Raider Class vessels bore the livery of Fel Dynasty. The Rogue Trader Regent was very interested in this information as he felt that he still needed to extract revenge from Hadarak Fel after our encounter on The Righteous Path... The Omnissiah's Will was forced to flee the system when Fel's fleeted turned towards her.
Our initial priority, we decided, was to salvage the damaged heavy cruiser - it is not often that such an opportunity presents itself, so we modified our plans accordingly, and began the transfer to the Furnace of Redemption. As we waited in the docking bay of the asteroid base a vaguely familiar, tall, cloaked figure stepped from the shadows, however, it was not until it spoke that I realised that it was Inquisitor Attelus! I focussed on the man, remembering that he had been declared renegade, and it was not until I heard a sharp intake of breath from Ivanov that my attention was drawn to a shape deeper in the shadows. This figure was moving parallel to us, along the edge of the room, not exactly hiding itself, but moving with a slow, hunters grace belying its huge size. The features of the man were shrouded by a hooded cloak, and perhaps realising it had been seen, it angling towards us. With a start, I realised that this was the Astartes, Castagir.
"Greetings! Rogue Trader!" Atellus's voice rang out clearly. "I believe we may have some business to do, now that you are in charge of the Dynasty..."
++ End of record ++
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: ASTEROID BASE ALPHA, FOOTFALL SYSTEM, THE CAULDRON ++
After a brief silence as we took stock of the situation Atellus spoke again; "I require transport to a location..."
Hartek cleared his throat, and then spoke. "That's as maybe... Inquisitor... However we do have a journey planned ourselves - in fact we were just leaving..."
Atellus nodded. "I understand that Rogue Trader. However the information I have is time sensitive, we have no time to delay. We must leave with a couple of days..."
There was another silence, and then Hartek continued. "And what's in it for us?"
Atellus paused, obviously not expecting that response. "Does not your Warrant of Trade, which I procured for this House, demand that you aid in the defence of the Calixis Sector?"
"Aye. That it does..." The Rogue Trader Regent mused. "But only when that aid is sought by the legal authority. You have been declared excommunicatus, and we have been ordered to report your location to Witchfinder Rykehuss should we discover it. Why should I not do this now?"
Obviously annoyed Atellus snapped "You should not involve yourself in the internal workings of the Inquisition. It does not concern you. This is a result of an internal struggle, and some of my... colleagues... attempted to have me assassinated. Their failure has led them to take this approach, which will also fail when all the information comes to light!"
"Why should we abandon our plans on your whim?" Hartek asked angrily, not unreasonably in my opinion.
Atellus nodded. "I am not asking you to abandon them, just delay them..."
"If we delay too long, then we will lose out on our prize. This would affect the Dynasty in the power struggle in the Expanse, and cost us in our mission to raise forces against the Tyranids..." The Rogue Trader Regent responded.
The conversation continued; each man was powerful in their own sphere, however each knew better than to annoy the other too much as neither could afford the retribution the other would be able to bring to them, Atellus within the Imperium, and Hartek outside. As a result, there was much verbal fencing between the two, and although they seemed to enjoy it I will not document it here as much of was not overly relevant to our task, however, the thrust of the discussion was that Atellus was on the trail of an ancient super-weapon which he planned to turn against the xenos that were threatening the Calixis Sector. His investigations had led him to a world in the Heathen Stars on the far fringes of the Expanse, a location provided by an unnamed scholar, with the suggestion that it may have been an Eldar Maiden World. Hartek agreed to transport Atellus and his team to the location, and in return Atellus promised that he would owe Hartek a debt, and would aid him when Hartek asked. Thus an accord was reached, and we would begin our voyage in two standard days when we had chance to re-plan the recovery of the Cruiser discovered near Dropas.
Finally Atellus asked a question. "I was given to understand you had recovered our missing equipment?"
We did." Hartek responded. "It is now in the care of Interrogator Helbrech"
Atellus nodded. "Excellent. I think we will pay him a visit while we are here. Thank-you, Rogue Trader. I will see you again in two days."
Atellus and the giant, robed figure turned and walked towards a small shuttle craft in the docking bay, and as they did so were joined by a lithe, graceful figure, who none of us had seen before. Ivanov grunted, and Hartek muttered under his breath, "Do all those damn Inquisition types travel with personal assassins...?"
We contacted Captain Perez of The Revenge, who had been escorting the trade fleet in the Saphirus System, and ordered him to do what was needed to secure and transport the Cruiser back to Footfall for repair and refit. He confirmed his orders, and then reported that the ship was not a Heavy Cruiser, but had been properly identified by his salvage teams, who were obviously far more professional than Captain McFallon's, as the Avenger class Grand Cruiser, His Undying Will. That taken care of, I passed a list of the immediately identified parts required to refit the ship to the Seneschal, and asked her to start stockpiling them to make the repairs, and we turned our attention to the Inquisitors mission to the Heathen Stars.
Once the initial jump to the warp had been made, and the correct litanies spoken and incenses lit, there was little for me to do, so I retired to my workshop. There I found a small refrigaratum with a note, which read, Thought you could do something useful with these! in what I think may well be the Rogue Trader Regents' hand. I carefully opened the cooler, and found six severed heads. I was fairly sure I recognised at least one of them, so did a quick trawl of the cogitators checking the Dynasty rosters; it appeared that these men had chosen to leave the employ of our Rogue Trader house after the battle on Saphirus 1-1S2M3. They were undamaged, so I began the process of converting them into servo-skulls, not missing the irony of the situation; by attempting to leave their employment, they had ensured that they would forever remain servants of the Dynasty.
I must check what the official pension policy is for our House...
The warp journey was uneventful, which made a nice change, but it was long, we had spent ten uncomfortable days travelling through the empyrean, and people were on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. Hartek attempted to alleviate some of the tension by providing entertainment, arranging for pit fights, and combat bouts between volunteers, the winners gaining financial or career benefits. I will never understand the emotions of some of the fleshbags; they allowed themselves to be so very easily distracted, having said that, exactly because of this lack of focus, the events worked well keeping the crew distracted.
The sirens sounded warning of the impending transition back to real space; however, the Navigator was concerned as there was no evidence of a star in the region of space we were jumping into. Inquisitor Atellus insisted we were in the right place, so Hartek ordered the jump.
Immediately, I knew something was wrong. The Furnace of Redemption was being subjected to forces she was not designed to withstand, and it felt like her hull was being twisted. Above the groaning noise of the stressing hull plates I shouted litanies to the machine spirits and prayers to the Omnissiah, and over the vox to the bridge heard Ivanov shout;
"We're caught in a gravity well! Correction, we're trapped between two gravity wells!" Then I heard him barking orders to the helms crew.
Ivanov quickly took control and found the corridor of the void where the two gravity wells cancelled each other out, and masterfully steered the ship out of the danger area. I ran diagnostics on all of the ships systems, and sent servitors and Tech-Priests on visual inspection tours, and, thanks be to the Omnissiah, the Furnace of Redemption was undamaged. I opened a vox channel to the Lieutenant;
"Lieutenant Ivanov, both I, and the machine spirits of our ship thank you for your timely actions, you have preserved us all."
"Thank you, Engineseer!" Ivanov responded, and then I heard him speak to his team; "Gentlemen, well done. A double grog ration for you all!"
I cut the vox link to the sound of cheering, and made my way up to the bridge.
The system we had arrived in was strange, in fact it should not exist according to all conventional wisdom, and we should not have survived our entry into it; the gravity wells should have torn us apart in seconds.
In the true sense of the word, where we were was not even a system at all; there was a frozen blue gas giant with half a dozen asteroid sized moons present, however initial scans failed to detect a star! I adjusted the auger arrays to search for anomalies, and they quickly detected a very small but intense gravity well. I fed the data into the cogitators and they reported that all the evidence pointed to a system that had all the properties of being based around a dwarf star, but that it was emitting no heat whatsoever. Puzzled I extrapolated that further, and the only logical conclusion that could be drawn was that the star was a black dwarf, something that according to all the records at my disposal had never been previously encountered.
The theory was that a black dwarf was the remains of a star that had flared into a red giant, consuming its system, and then collapsed in on itself becoming a yellow, then white dwarf as it used all its energy, then after several billion years, once the white dwarf has expended all the remaining energy a black dwarf was formed. The problem with the theory was that the current estimated life of the universe was not long enough for this process to have taken place...
That left one conclusion. Something else had depleted this star. Tech-Priest Calldia was not the only one who had developed a bad feeling about where we were...
I explained the impossibility of what we were seeing to those around me, and saw a mix of confusion and bafflement on the faces of the command staff, however, Atellus looked very excited.
You know, I think we've found it!" he said as he looked up from a data slate. "If the tales are correct, and it seems that they are, it will be on one of the moons! Pass me the data and I will confirm our target."
I transferred the information to his data slate, and then asked "If this legend is correct, what other legends are there about this place?"
Atellus glanced at me, "Very little. Just stories of the weapon. If it can do this, just imagine what it will do to those foul xenos Tyranids!"
I nodded, but still could not shake that uneasy feeling.
The Inquisitor soon pinpointed our destination, and our sensor scans located a small barren planetoid, perhaps two thousand kilometres in diameter, with a solid core. However, there was a perfectly round patch of disruption, about twenty kilometres in diameter which resisted all efforts of our auger arrays to penetrate, no matter how I modulated them. Something was being shielded.
Although the Rogue Trader Regent was beginning to share my disquiet about what we were finding, we made preparations to to the planetoid. The plan was to keep the incursion as small as possible, limiting it to two guncutters, each transporting a Chimera, and split between the two small ships, the Inquisitor's party, Hartek and a platoon of the 1st Cohort, Ivanov, and myself.
Ivanov piloted the first guncutter, taking us within the circle of the disruption, setting us down within ten kilometres of the centre. Any closer would have been dangerous, as the strange disruption was affecting the controls of the small craft. The second guncutter followed our flight path and made it down without trouble. On the way down, we had spotted a pyramid shaped construction at the centre of the circle of disruption, but soon lost sight of it in the poor visibility. We disembarked from the craft, and, leaving a squad to protect them, headed off towards the pyramid.
The planetoid was just as barren as we expected, and was scoured by strong solar winds, making exposure on the surface uncomfortable, if not outright dangerous, and throughout the journey I tried, and failed, to make the auspex scanners work, and it became more and more hopeless the closer to the destination we got. We pushed on regardless, making reasonable time, and almost an hour of travel time later arrived at the base of the pyramid, which reached five hundred metres into the dark sky at its capstone.
The pyramid was weathered, having been battered by the winds the swept over the surface, and on closer inspection carved into alcoves along the side of the construction were huge, badly weathered statues. They stood twenty metres high, and were humanoid in shape; however, they had been so badly degraded by the environmental conditions, it was impossible to identify which race they had originally depicted. As we traversed the base of the pyramid we found a huge doorway, the top of which was thirty metres from the ground. They were covered with glyphs of a type I had never seen previously, and looking at the others in the group, it was clear that they had not either. We had no hope of opening the doors manually, so attached chains to the Chimeras, and used them to drag the huge doors open wide enough to allow a person to enter. Even that small movement nearly proved too much for the vehicles to manage.
As soon as the door was ajar, Castagir, the Astartes, now clad in the power armour we had recovered from Hadarak Fel, slipped though the gap, and after a few seconds called for us to follow. Inquisitor Atellus and the assassin, who I had learnt was named Scythia, followed, and then after a slight pause, the rest of us followed, detaching another squad to hold the doors in case a rapid withdrawal was required.
Before us was a huge, black expanse, and so illuminators shining, we moved forward. Almost immediately I noticed errors occurring on our electronic equipment, as the machine spirits were interfered with by whatever was causing the wider disruption. My internal chrono suddenly suggested that we had moved back in time three days, yet Hartek's was showing that we had travelled forward two days... My distance markers began throwing up random numbers, so I began to count my paces to estimate distance, and it soon became clear that we had travelled far greater than should be possible in a five hundred metre pyramid - we had gone at least double that. I turned to check behind me, and was still able to see the lights from the squad holding the doors. It seemed that spatial and temporal rules did not apply here, and the strange geometrics made me feel uncomfortable. More than that, it felt wrong.
The men were getting nervous too, obviously feeling the same thing, so Hartek allowed a short break and Ivanov dropped back, speaking to each of the soldiers in turn, helping them allay their fears. The Lieutenants words and the breather seemed to do them good, however, I noticed that at the front Castagir although stopped was not resting, nor seemed to need it, and he did not take his focus from the unknown that surrounding us.
I estimated that we had continued on for three further hours, and yet throughout this time we did not appear to be gaining ground, when Castagir signalled for the column to stop. The soldiers surrounding us immediately scanned around, looking for threats, but none seemed to present themselves, so I moved forward in the company of Hartek and Ivanov.
"Obstacle!" was the only explanation the Astartes gave when we caught up with him, the Inquisitor and Assassin were already there, and sure enough in the gloom ahead I could see a deep chasm, perhaps thirty metres wide.
Atellus broke the silence; "We need to cross..."
Scythia nodded, and produced a gun that fired a cable that imbedded itself in the far side. She then secured the near end of the cable on our side by firing another pin into the floor, and looping the cable around this. I recognised the cable as a type of braided mono-filament which combined numerous strands to give immense strength for very little weight, and was often used for recovering immobilised armoured vehicles. I could not help but feel amusement however, when she glanced over at Castagir, and then fired a second cable over the chasm, securing it parallel to the first. I confess I wondered how he was going to cross the gap, but as it transpired I need not have worried; Scythia crossed first, showing her agility by barely breaking stride, and despite his bulk, Castagir crossed with a surprising grace, Atellus, was slower, but seemed untroubled, as did the Rogue Trader Regent. I bridged both cables and focussing on the far side crossed with a minimum of fuss, and then turned to see Ivanov cross with almost as much grace as the Assassin. The troops were slower, and had it not been for the safety harnesses attached to their webbing, we would have lost at least one, as it was, all of us crossed the obstacle safely. Thanks be to the Omnissiah.
We formed back into our column, and continued to move forward, but after only thirty more minutes of walking our progress was halted again, this time by a massive wall that stretched as far as our illumination reached. The only break in this wall was an opening that led into a corridor approximately four metres wide, and the same height, and just visible at the end of this corridor was a metallic looking door. It was silver in colour, I did not recognise the metal, and it was inlaid glyphs and runes of a type I had never seen before. I looked around puzzled, and asked if anyone else recognised anything, and received a chorus of negative responses. The rock of the corridor, and around the door was incredibly smooth, and a deep obsidian black, once again unlike anything I had previously encountered. Where the door met the wall glowed a faint green light, and I suddenly felt that strange dread again.
Clearly I was not the only one, Ivanov turned to Hartek; "I have a really bad feeling about this boss...!"
After a pause the Rogue Trader Regent answered. "We go on!"
An excited Atellus, and Castagir stepped up to the door, and the rest of us moved to one side to give them space, and in my case to remove myself from the range of any booby trap that might be present.
"I think we've found it!" Inquisitor Atellus said, and then he turned to Hartek. "The weapon is beyond this door, but no doubt there will be many other treasures..."
Hartek nodded, and spoke; "I'm just as interested in the weapon myself!"
"Well, no doubt once we have destroyed the xenos, there will be other uses for it!" I am sure I could detect a smile in the Inquisitors voice. Mind you, Inquisitors have a reputation that travels alongside extreme violence...
Ivanov stepped to the end of the corridor with the troops, and set them up in a defensive arc, leaving the rest of us near the door. I stepped forward again, to check whether there was a technical way to open the door, but there did not appear to be anything more complicated than a large handle. I reached up to grasp it, but as I did so, I found myself blocked by Castagir's arm. I stepped back, confused, and if I am completely honest, slightly relieved, and looked up at the Astartes who appeared to have frozen in place.
After a few seconds Atellus spoke; "What are you doing Castagir? Let us through!"
More seconds passed, and then I heard the deep rumbling of Castagir's voice. "I have seen this before. Atellus, you and I have spoken of this before." He paused, and his helmeted head turned to regard the Inquisitor, who looked shocked.
Then from the far end of the corridor came a commotion. I turned to see what was going on, and from the gloom heard a xenos voice speaking Low Gothic. "Stop foolish Mon-Keigh!" I recognised the terminology for humans that the Eldar like to use.
Ivanov whipped round, facing the direction from which the voice had emanated. A tall thin, apparently female figure in strange red and white robes and a plastic type armour appeared out of the darkness. She was flanked by six blue armoured figures carrying shuriken catapults, while further back was a figure carrying an exquisitely designed and crafted sword - as much as anything xenos crafted can be exquisite anyway...
The female spoke again. "You do not understand what you're dealing with! This course of action will bring ruin to both our peoples!"
Behind the group two more figures appeared. These we wearing black armour and were carrying a larger, heavier version of the shuriken catapults that the blue figures held. Flanking them were a pair of green armoured xenos, moving carefully and gracefully forward.
I could hear Ivanov speaking to our troops, calming them; "Steady! Steady boys...!"
Castagir turned fully, and I saw him loosen his sword in its scabbard, however, when he spoke his voice was once again measured and calm. When he spoke his focus appeared to be on Atellus rather than the Eldar; "This was the subject of one of my visions. It doomed the Chapter. It doomed the System. And it doomed the Sector..."
"But your visions were given to you by a foul creature of the warp! It could've lied!" Atellus stated.
Castagir spoke more in the next few minutes than I had ever heard him speak before in one sentence, even including when we had had the discussion regarding the arming of the Furnace of Redemption; "Not all of the visions came from that spawn. This one predated that... Event... I recognise now this corridor. I recognise the people around me who I knew not at that time. I recognise the door, and the symbols. You know that the vision did not end well. You know that I saw then end the Calixis Sector. You know that I saw the Tyranids destroyed, but a greater threat unleashed. And you know that I speak the truth, it was... tested..."
I felt an involuntary shiver pass through my organic parts as I heard these words.
Hartek turned towards the Eldar. "We do not understand what we're dealing with? On the contrary, Eldar! Thanks to our friend there we may understand more than you!"
"Maybe not all of your kind are as foolish as you appear to be..." The female xenos responded. "I recommend that you leave this place before you disturb something that once woken cannot be put back to sleep..."
Hartek cocked his head to one side, before speaking slowly. "Do you know of the threat that is posed to all inhabitants of this area of space?"
"Of which threat would you be speaking, little Mon-Keigh?" The xenos asked.
Hartek smiled, "Castagir? Perhaps you are better placed to answer?"
"As you wish." The Astartes spoke. "I am sure you are aware of the biologicus xenoform we know as the Tyranids?"
The Eldar nodded, "You Mon-Keigh call them the Great Devourer..."
"Indeed." Castagir continued. "A hive fleet is en route to this area of space. We estimate we have less than ten standard years before worlds are lost."
"Of course we know this, and more!" snapped the Eldar impatiently. "But this does not concern us..."
"It will do when they fall on your people" Castagir said, remaining calm.
"Do not worry about us Mon-Keigh, we will be prepared. I warn you, one last time to leave this place! I can see that you, Astartes, see some reason. That is unusual for your race. Take heed, and do not tarry here..." With that the Eldar turned back into the darkness, shimmered, and faded from sight.
Finally Atellus spoke. "The foul xenos want to use us, as they always do!"
"That's as maybe Atellus, however, whether you believe it or not, I believe that this place will not provide us with the aid that we seek..."
Atellus nodded slowly. "I will take your word for it Castagir, but I will not take theirs! Let us leave this place then..."
We turned and left the corridor, and as we walked, Castagir explained his vision to us. He had seen this place as he had stated earlier, and then the vision skipped forward, and he had seen a black crescent shaped ship move into systems of the Calixis Sector, destroying their stars and leaving no life, in the same manner that the system we were currently in had no life and a collapsed star. He described how he saw the defenders of humanity, including fellow Astartes overwhelmed, before the light of humanity blinked out in the Sector, and the dark shadow move further into the Imperium. He spoke with a certainty which chilled us all; however it was his final words that struck home the most. This was not his only vision, and without going into details, he explained that another of his visions had unfolded almost exactly as he had foreseen, until he, Inquisitor Atellus, Scythia, and a number of others intervened and ended the threat. He finished with the words;
"The others did not survive, however, my vision held true until our intervention. I know that had we opened that door it would have been the death of us all, and many billions beyond." With that Castagir fell silent again, leaving us all to our thoughts.
After a few minutes, Atellus broke the silence. "You know, nobody had identified the origins of this place, but the scholar referred to the race that inhabited it as the Necrontyr. I had never heard of them, and I know many xenos races..."
No one had heard that name before, but then Hartek spoke up; "I have not heard of such a race, but in several languages that word, or something very similar, means "death"..."
The journey back to the Furnace of Redemption was fortunately without incident, and Atellus looked sadly at the holo-tank representation of the system.
See the preoccupied Inquisitor, Castagir turned to Atellus and spoke; "We will find other means, my friend..."
Atellus nodded. "I hope so. I hope so for everyone's sake..."
The ship moved out to the edge of the system, made the transition into the warp, and arrived back in Footfall after a journey of ten standard days, once again, fortunately without incident. I used the time to craft myself a set of high quality cybernetic eyes, something I had been meaning to do since my own eyes had become sensitive to light, and then let my Tech-Priests fit them for me.
As our Asteroid base came into view, our auger arrays picked up another contact; the Avenger class Grand Cruiser, His Undying Will was tethered to the repair dock, and crews were already swarming all over her! The bridge crew cheered as the vox screen sprang to life. Captain Perez appeared and spoke; "Welcome home gentlemen. We have the prize!"
Perez had been successful in his mission, and I am sure that the Rogue Trader Regent rewarded him well for his efforts.
++ End of record ++
Well, assuming the party survived the firefight with the eldar.
They would have explored the rest of the structure and found.........
.......after the flight to the Righteous Fury with those that has survived the.........
.......returning back to footfall battered and broken........
The above would have been a good result
Also, the nid fleet attacking the Calixis sector would have been destroyed by the obvious but in turn Castagirs chapter system would have been destroyed and the beginning of the end started that would have finished within some of the pc's life spans
Awwwwww isn't Marvin adorable when he's tryin' to be all coy and mysterious.
At the (virtual) table it was hilarious as all the players very quickly twigged what the ancient weapon was (even me, the resident non-40K fan), but obviously couldn't know in character. So while our bold explorers were pressing forward, the players were all desperately looking for excuses not to be there and trying hard not to use the N-word.
Two other stand-out things about this session that deserve mentioning.
1) I dunno if it's been mentioned previously, but Inquisitor Atellus and his entourage were the PCs from the long running Dark Heresy game that preceded this one, both of which form the first two parts of Marvin's planned epic campaign (presumably ending in a future Deathwatch campaign). Castagir was Lord Spatula's old PC, and this sequence was big story pay-off for him.
Coming up in next week's exciting episode....... WAAAAAAAAAAARGHHH!
Why thank you Dr V, I do try my best
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: ASTEROID BASE ALPHA, FOOTFALL SYSTEM, THE CAULDRON ++
I spent the next few days making basic checks on our new Cruiser, and specifying the repair and refit regime for the crews who were working on her. From the bridge of the ship I noticed a small shuttle craft depart from The Revenge and then dock with the Asteroid Base, and shortly after received a vox call summoning me to the Medicae chamber. I finished relaying my instructions, and made the short transfer from ship to base before heading there. On arrival, I found the grievously injured Captain McFallon, being prepared for surgery. I could see straight away that many of her vital organs would need replacing, as would an arm and a leg, and so I dispatched a Tech-Priest to my workshop to bring my store of cybernetic parts. I modified the required components and tailored them to fit the unfortunate woman, and then left the Tech-Chirurgeons to complete the cycle of implantation.
The Furnace of Redemption had been re-supplied and was making ready to begin another journey into Winterscales Realm to follow up on the leads that the scouting had uncovered while we had been dealing with the aftermath of the conflict in the Saphirus System. As I boarded her, I saw that the Rogue Trader Regent's personal gun-cutter was missing, however, it did return shortly afterwards. When I checked the onboard cogitators, I was able to discern that it had visited the Black Dragon's Asteroid base. It left me wondering what business the head of the Dynasty had with that criminal organisation, however, I am fairly sure it had something to do with the recording I had seen of his conversation with the tattooed man a few weeks earlier...
Our journey into Winterscales Realm was uneventful, although we were delayed at the jump point in the Footfall System by warp storms that the Navigator told us were obscuring the Astronomicon. Hartek employed the usual pit fighting diversions to keep the crew occupied, with some success. I did what I could by providing a number of fighting contraptions to make the spectacle more interesting for the audience, and the winners were cherry picked and added to the elite shock troop formations that were being put together to aid in the defence of the ship should we ever be boarded. After three weeks the storms dissipated as quickly as they had appeared, and we got underway.
++ LOCATION: THE FURNACE OF REDEMPTION, SYSTEM 0108, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
System 0108 was a short hop from both Footfall and Dropas, and if we could find something of interest here would complete a nice trading loop from Footfall to Dropas to System 0108 and back to Footfall, and as a result could significantly boost our money making capabilities, and therefore our influence within the Expanse.
We appeared on the very edge of the system, which although adding time to our journey into the centre was a blessing, as it gave us more time to scan the planets that were there, and then interpret the data. The system was centred on a sol sized yellow-white star, and there was very little of interest outside the habitable zone; many of the planets were of the Jovian type, but what resources were present would have taken more effort to exploit than they were worth. Within the habitable zone however, was a small terrestrial planet, which although reasonably hostile to humans - the atmosphere was not breathable, and the biosphere was classed as immiscible for human habitation, it did have a number of mineral and precious metal resources. Of more interest was the fact that the world seemed to be inhabited, and inhabited with an advanced civilisation of at least several tens of thousands of life-forms; our scans had even detected transmissions from orbit, indicating that the inhabitants were technologically advanced, and capable of void travel.
We scanned the vessels from which we had detected the orbital transmissions, and were shocked to discover they were tiny, closer to the size of gun-cutters or shuttles, being no more than one or two-hundred metres in length! We detected that they were scanning us in return, and Hartek started to open a vox channel, however, we were uncertain whether they would be able to receive such a transmission, so I suggested we attempt communication via the slower radio waves. This agreed, Hartek spoke;
"This is Trader Regent Hartek of the Dureen Dynasty. I greet you in the name of peace and co-prosperity, and we come seeking honest and open trade. Please respond if this would be of interest to you."
And we settled back to await a response. It took over a standard hour for us to pick up a signal, and then we heard a voice speaking a dialect of Low Gothic;
"This is Admiral Falke. Who the devil are you, and what are you doing here?"
This caused some puzzled looks on the bridge, and I voiced the thoughts that I am sure many people had; "I thought we had just said that!"
Then before anyone could do anything rash, a thought hit me. I ran some calculations through my cogitators, and the data seemed to confirm that thought. "I know what had happened here; the messages have crossed. They transmitted their message before they received ours - this method is very slow, so we need to await their next message."
Hartek nodded, and we continued to wait. Sure enough, a short while later, we received a second message; "I am Admiral Falke, of the Lele Federation. I am here to escort you to Lele. Any act of aggression will result in the use of force! Do you comply?"
The looks of bemusement and shock on the faces of the bridge crew was interesting to see, but this only lasted for a few seconds before people began to laugh; obviously the thought of being threatened by shuttle sized vessels did not carry the menace that the Admiral thought it might. Fortunately we were not transmitting this amusement, instead settling for a diplomatic response.
"We thank you for your kind words Admiral Falke, and appreciate your offer of a protective escort as we journey to your world. It is most kind of you to look to our safety! When will your Fleet arrive on station?"
I was impressed that the Rogue Trader Regent managed to keep a straight face while he transmitted to the Lele ships. Admiral Falke responded that two of his ships would take station on our flanks, and one would lead, to escort us to orbit around Lele. The ships arrived within a couple of days, and I took the chance to scan them more closely, and as I ran the data through my cogitators it became clear that they had very efficient plasma drives, potentially outputting as much power as we would normally see a small transport vessel capable of. In addition, the hulls themselves seemed naturally stealthy, making it more difficult than normal to pinpoint these small craft; they had advanced communications, and were armed with weapons of a type I had not previously encountered. I doubted that they were much of a threat to the Furnace of Redemption, however, there was obviously some advanced technology in use, and I hoped that I would be able to inspect one of these drives at closer quarters once the diplomacy had been dealt with.
A week later, we had arrived in orbit around Lele, having had no further contact with our new friends. Once we were on station though, we received a message from the planet itself.
A male voice spoke; "Visitors from out of system, we welcome you to Lele, and the Federation of the Lelian people. I am High Researcher Lerouche, and I invite you to visit our city where we can learn about each other, and maybe foster a friendship that will last through the ages. We await your response."
We accepted the invitation, and prepared to make the journey to the surface. The humans tested their environment suits; they would be dependent on their systems as the atmosphere was not breathable, something, that thanks be to the Omnissiah, I have not had to worry about for a while, so I donned my armour, collected my weapons, and accompanied by my servo-skulls met with the rest of the landing team in the docking bay. It was a small team, with the Rogue Trader Regent accompanied by myself, Ivanov who flew the gun-cutter, and thirty of Hartek's Household Guard. Half a Cohort of troops were made ready and told to prepare for a combat should things not go well on the surface.
++ LOCATION: LELE, THE LELE SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
Lele reminded me of Mars, and I felt a pang of longing for the cradle of the Omnissiah, however, there were subtle differences and large areas were swathed with vegetation that gave the world a green covering over its red surface. The buildings in the city were constructed of a silver-brown rock and metal, and there seemed to be a highly structured society with public transport in the form of a monorail and tram system servicing every district. We navigated towards a series of landing pads that seemed to form a space port, and waiting for us was a group of around a hundred humanoids, dressed in brownish-red robes worn over jumpsuits. I noticed that around twenty-five percent of the crowd were armed with long, bulky rifles of an unknown type, and were wearing what looked to be a type of carapace armour in the form of chest plates. The gravity was lighter than standard, and this was reflected in the build of our hosts; they were almost uniformly tall and slim, and obviously had human origins. I quickly noticed however, that they only had three fingers and a thumb, and were able to breathe the strange atmosphere as they had what looked to be gill slits in their necks. Strangely, none appeared to be older than thirty-five Terran years in age. As we disembarked from the gun-cutter, I found it quite difficult to move in the weaker gravity, and saw that I was not the only one moving awkwardly; most of our people were too. I looked over at the Lelians, and saw that a small group had detached themselves from the main mass of people, and then a single man took an additional step forward and nodded in our direction.
Hartek cleared his throat, and then spoke; "I, Kilgrim Hartek, Trader Regent of the Dureen Dynasty greet you in fellowship and peace, and the promise of profitable cooperation."
The man smiled, and then replied. "I am the High Researcher, Archibald Lerouche. I apologise for the terse welcome you received from the Admiral, and we welcome you in peace and understanding. I believe now that introductions are over, maybe we should retire to the High Facility where we can discuss our new friendship."
We left a squad of the Household Guard with the gun-cutter and then walked the short distance to the to a monorail terminal, which quickly transported us to the largest building in the settlement. It was interesting to note as we were conveyed through the city, that it appeared very clean and well maintained, and had an air of high technology, some of which I recognised, some of which I did not. During the journey, the High Researcher asked where we had come from, and Hartek startled everyone by informing him that we had "Come from the Heavens to bring prosperity". That may have worked on some backwater feral world, but I was surprised he had attempted it with such a sophisticated people, and it appeared that they were equally taken aback, and seemed to deal with the statement by ignoring it.
The Rogue Trader Regent's next comment was far more pertinent; "I notice that none of your people appear to be advanced in age. Are you a young colony?"
"Oh, no! We have been here for as long as anyone can remember." Lerouche replied, seeming relieved that the conversation had turned in a more sensible direction. "Thousands of years, or longer. We age well."
I certainly detected a second meaning in that statement, but was unsure quite what was being left unsaid…
We reached the High Facility and were made comfortable in a conference room; snacks and beverages were made available to us, but of course we could not avail ourselves of them; the produce of this world being indigestible to our bodies. Anyway, the others of our group could not remove the masks from their environment suits to even attempt to try them.
The negotiations went well, and it appeared that although advanced, their world suffered from a shortage of gemstones which were required as components in some of their technology. We had a sample of the Dropas gems delivered to the surface, and the Lelians seemed excited to see the size and range, so an agreement was struck to provide them with the gems that they needed in return for a supply of the rare minerals and precious metals that were abundant on their world. The deal struck, despite some exceptionally blunt statements from the Rogue Trader Regent, even by his standards, the conversation turned towards their origins.
Their history told them that they were descended from the people of a great Empire which had occupied this area of space many millennia previously. When their people first arrived, it was as the result of an unknown disaster, and they thought that this world would prove their saviour, however, it was a hostile environment, so they had had to engineer their bodies to better interact with the environment. Over time, they had learned to expand their technology, and move into the void to explore their system. They had thought about exploring further, but the distances seemed so vast that such travel did not seem practical. This led to questions about how we had travelled to them, and I explained the theory of warp travel, but as their population did not contain any psykers this led to more questions than answers for them.
Throughout the conversation I had watched the High Researcher use a small logic engine, but at no time had he attempted to use any of the correct incantations or litanies, and although shocked by the insult to the Omnissiah, I held my tongue as I had no desire to cause offence, indeed, I used the opportunity to steer the subject matter towards technology. This appeared to bore the rest of my companions, whereas all the Lelians were involved in the conversation. This was surprising in its own way, as even the most junior person seemed to have knowledge that would stretch the capabilities of many senior Tech-Priests and Magos's. I of course understood the subject to its core, even though I was concerned by the seeming ignorance of the Omnissiah and the presence of Machine Spirits.
Hartek, still bored by the technological conversation, suggested a cultural exchange, offering to take a number of Lelian volunteers aboard the Furnace of Redemption, and back to our base in Footfall so that they could expand their knowledge, and also travel beyond their system, as they had been striving to do. Lerouche promised to think about the offer. I arranged to speak to him again in more detail, to delve into the technology of the Lelians. Tech Priest Calldia was the happiest I have ever heard him by the end of the meeting.
As the meeting broke up, almost as an afterthought, the High Researcher asked a strange question; "Are you the first of your kind?"
Initially I thought he meant of my kind, meaning Tech-Priests, as I had been aware of a number of inquisitive looks that my augmented appearance had drawn from the Lelians, but I was wrong. Lerouche rephrased his question, asking whether our people had visited them before. I thought carefully, and having run through the data, was certain that Imperial Representatives or other Rogue Traders would definitely have made contact with them, responded that "To the best of my knowledge, none of our people have explored this system in recent times, although there is a possibility that they have prior to that." Strangely alarmed by the seemingly innocuous question, I inquired why he had asked it.
"Well, you see, almost one solar rotation ago, another vessel crashed on the planet. That is the reason the Admiral was terse with you; we thought that you may have been scouting us previously..."
I was genuinely surprised, and felt slightly uneasy at this news. "Have you explored this wreck?"
"We tried, but everyone we dispatched to investigate did not return." Lerouche replied, a weak smile on his face.
I asked the Head Researcher and asked whether he had any images of the wreck.
He turned to a display screen, and called up the grainy images he wanted to show us (once again without speaking the correct litanies), and before us we could make out wreckage of crashed void-fairing vessel of roughly the same mass as ours. It was not human in origin, and was fairly ramshackle, primitive and blocky. I called over to Hartek, and informed him of what I had just learned, and indicating the images, suggested we request that the Furnace of Redemption take up a geo-synchronous orbit above the crash site and attempt to gain a clearer picture of what had crashed. It put me in mind of the wreckage we had seen in the Magaros system, but neither I, nor Hartek were certain. Even so, I have often found it is best to be prudent when dealing with xenos, and with that in mind, we warned Lerouche that this was a serious threat to his world.
Lerouche looked concerned, and readily agreed to our offer of aid to help cleanse his world of the threat, which of course would help us appear in a positive light in any further negotiations...
The crash site was overlooked by a ridgeline approximately four to five hundred metres from the final resting place of the xenos wreck, however the rest of the terrain was open and flat, which made it an ideal area for operating armoured vehicles. To the untrained eye, other than the wreck itself there appeared to be few places for an enemy to conceal himself, however, as anyone experienced in these matters knows it is easy to hide infantry, even large numbers of them so when selecting our forces Hartek erred on the side of caution. He arranged a deployment of our armoured Cohort, the 10th, and the bike scouts from 7th Cohort led by Big Red, along with a Cohort of infantry, 5th Cohort, to be mounted within the armoured transports.
Initially it seemed strange that High Researcher Lerouche deferred to us in all matters military but he quickly explained that Lele had no standing military as such, only a Militia that thanks to the levels of technology available to the people was very well equipped, however had no real combat experience. Even so, I expected that there would be some form of protest from the Militia leadership, however fortunately this was not the case; the only condition to our deployment was that the Militia Commander, who introduced himself as General Theodore could join us on the expedition along with a cadre of his troops. We were happy to oblige him.
We asked for, and received a demonstration of the Lelian war-gear, and it was impressive. Weapons that would at first appear too large for the slight Lelians to wield we made usable by the clever application of technology; they were fitted with a type of suspensor and recoil suppression system. The rifles fired a burst of pulse energy, in the same manner that I am told the xenos Tau weapons function. (Not that I have any direct experience of this.) This power was concentrated in the same way that they had increased the energy output from their ship engines, a fact that made me even more convinced that we should push the subject of a technological exchange with the High Researcher.
The deployment went well, and General Theodore was obviously enjoying himself, his face seemed permanently stretched into a wide grin, as he rode on the command vehicle. The armour was spread out in a wide arrowhead formation, with the scout biker ranging ahead, and protecting the flanks, and I have to admit that seeing that military power speeding over the plains did stir something in the heart. We closed in on the crash site, hearing nothing from the scouts; they had been ordered to maintain vox silence unless they had anything to report, so it seemed that no news was good news.
This did not last. The vox sprang to life, and at the same time a dozen call-signs reported contact with the enemy; it was obvious that the scouts had been lured into an ambush, and one after the other a number of vox feeds went dead. On those still active we could here increasing panic in the voices, and the sound of heavy gunfire and explosions in the background.
Hartek attempted to exert some control; "Big Red, report!"
There was a brief silence, and then an unfamiliar voice got onto the channel; "Red's dead man! Red's dead..." Our scout commander who had served us so well on Saphirus 1-1S2M3 had fallen.
"This is command actual. Pull back to the ridgeline, we will reinforce you there. Confirm." Hartek barked.
"Confirming..." Then we heard the unknown man shouting at the scout troops; "To the ridge boys! Get out of this killing zone!"
We linked up with the battered bikers, some of them passing between the advancing tanks and personnel carriers before arcing round and taking position on our flanks as we advanced to the reverse slope of the ridge. Although there were a number of wounded soldiers, once we had regrouped it was clear that only a handful had been lost, unfortunately including their leader. The Basilisks then began laying down suppressing fire into the area where the scouts had been ambushed as we attempted to take stock.
Hartek started to take the reports from his men, so I headed up to the ridge so I could make a quick technical survey of the wrecked ship to aid with targeting. At first glance I recognised it as an Ork ship, so my feeling of alarm was clearly justified, but I got onto the vox-net and began calling shots at perceived week points on the hull when a slight movement caught my enhanced eyesight; one of the ships guns had been removed, and mounted as a ground based direct fire artillery piece! I immediately shouted a warning over the net to the Rogue Trader Regent.
"Sector one-gamma niner-five, ships weapon active! All troops must withdraw behind the ridge and take cover!"
Hartek immediately ordered our forces to fall back to the cover. There was a momentary pause as the implications of order sank in, and then vehicle commanders began ordering their crews to withdraw their vehicles to cover; it was a confused and chaotic melee of manoeuvring vehicles, and I am fairly sure that several unfortunate soldiers were crushed beneath the armour, but all the troops managed to withdraw below the ridgeline, just in time. There was a thunderous booming, and then the shock of a huge projectile impacting on the ridge. Anyone standing was thrown to the floor, and I saw two vehicles thrown onto their sides by the shockwave, but had we still been in position on the ridge we would all have been destroyed.
I edged forward again, and saw that in the act of firing, the weapon had annihilated itself; the barrel had split in a particularly comical manner, which was a relief overall. Hartek came up to the ridge alongside me to take a look at the target for himself, and relayed what the scouts had discovered; the force facing us was sizeable numbering several hundred, and definitely Ork, but uncharacteristically were disciplined, camouflaged, and well dug in.
I turned to Hartek and made a suggestion; "Lance strike from orbit?"
Behind his mask he grinned that worrying grin of his before replying. "Agreed!" He then got on the vox-net again; "Main force withdraw one klick, Chimeras one through five hold your position to act as transport. Forward Observation Officer to my location!"
Hartek's protective detail joined us, as did the Forward Observation Officer; the man responsible for calling the lance strike, and General Theodore, still looking like he was having the time of his life appeared to my right. I ran through the calculations required to put a direct feed from the targeting imagers on the Furnace of Redemption through to the data-slate used by the Forward Observation Officer, and then the strike was called.
"Take cover! Protect your eyes!" Hartek called
General Theodore looked awed by the power of the strike, but as the dust settled, we could see that the Ork ship was unscathed, as were the positions around it! Ringing it was a perfect circle of scorched ground where it looked as though the power of the lance had expended itself.
"Void shield! Damn!" I muttered
"Not a void shield..." Ivanov interjected "Orks use power fields... They're impenetrable, but generally single use and take a long time to recharge!"
Hartek immediately called for another strike, however the lance would be recharging for a while. Suddenly our attention was drawn by hundreds of Orks moving out of their positions, in a organised and disciplined manner, one group covering another as it advanced towards in a zigzag path.
"Stand to boys!" Hartek bellowed, and then called the remaining troops back to the position. He then ordered a trio of melta-cannon shells to be fired by the Furnace of Redemption at the Ork position.
From the Ork positions we could hear "Waaaaagggggggghhhh!" and a number of rockets rose into the sky, and with horror I realised that each had an Ork strapped to it; they appeared to be the equivalent of an Imperial jump-pack trooper! Around a dozen made it into our lines, where they caused chaos briefly before being gunned down by the overwhelming numbers surrounding them.
Then something else caught my attention; I noticed where the ridge had been destroyed a warren of tunnels had been dug into the ground, and immediately realised that the Orks could use these to get behind us. Just in time, I called a warning to our troops as a large Ork dragged itself from an opening not twenty metres from my position. It was wearing the remains of trousers and had smeared itself in the red mud that covered the ridge here, and on its back was strapped an anti-vehicle mine. I aimed my melta-gun, shot the Ork, and scorched and blistered the green flesh, also unfortunately succeeded in drawing its attention to me. It opened fire with its slug thrower and then charged at me, swinging with a chain-axe, and I scrambled out of the way, firing again, this time killing it and leaving a noxious smell of burnt Ork flesh as its corpse bubbled and smouldered.
From the back of my mind I heard Calldia shouting in horror; "The mine! The mine!"
Wide eyed I shouted a warning to those nearby and flung myself out of the blast area as it detonated, splashing me with the remains of its' erstwhile carrier.
I spoke to Calldia, "See, when you stop moaning, we make a good team!"
Still panicked, he responded; "Stop talking to me, and stay alive! And whatever you do, do not shoot those other ones over their either! It just makes them angry!"
My attention drawn to the new threat I called a warning over the vox as twelve huge Orks clambered out of holes in the ground, but once again, they were cut down by the massed troops around them before they could inflict too much damage. Then, near the Rogue Trader Regent, all fighting stopped as a huge Ork appeared; it was far bigger than any of the beasts I had previously seen, almost as large as the Grey Knight in armour that we had fought against the corrupted denizens of Saphirus 1-1S2M3, and was obviously the leader of this war-band.
One hand of the huge creature was encased in a massive power claw that looked well suited to tearing vehicles apart, and the other was holding a twin-barrelled slug thrower with an ammunition belt hanging from it. It was wearing a strange tri-corn hat with a skulls emblazoned on the front, and a naval style long jacket and boots. One of the Ork's eyes had been replaced by a chunky, inelegant three lensed cybernetic that glowed red, and at its feet bounced a strange ball shaped creature that seemed to be all mouth. I have since been informed that this breed of creature is known as a "Squig".
"Waaaaagggggggghhhh! Get 'em boys!" the massive beast shouted.
I raised my melta-gun again and aimed a shot but was flung to the ground once more as the ship fired melta-cannon rounds slammed the Ork positions from orbit. The wreck and the surrounding positions were enveloped in rolling superheated flame and the small bombardment effectively ended the threat from that direction. However, there were still a number of the xenos in hand-to-hand combat with our men. Once the ground stopped shaking, I braced myself from the floor, and re-aimed at the Ork leader, before pressing the firing stud. I was shocked to see it stepped around the blast, in a remarkably nimble manner, and with almost contemptuous ease. Ivanov had opened fire too, hitting it in the chest, but the creature barely registered the impacts. Hartek took this as his cue, and powered up the hill at the Ork, leaping into combat. He swung his power axe and the Ork thrust its gun up to block the strike, which it managed to do, but at the cost of the weapon which was cleaved in two.
"Oi! 'Umie! Me shoota! Ya bust me shoota! That woz me favrit shoota!" The Ork bellowed, and then snapping the power claw stepped towards Hartek.
The Rogue Trader Regent growled back at the creature; "Watch who you're calling 'Umie, Greenskin!"
The Ork leader grinned, and smashed Hartek with the power claw knocking him flying backwards, where he crashed into the ground and lay unmoving. At this point I feared for the life of my friend, however, after a few seconds he slowly and painfully got to his feet, reaching for his axe that he had dropped.
I could see that I was not the only one mesmerised by the struggle in front of me; all of our troops, as well as the Orks had stopped their own fights to watch. Both Ivanov and I took the advantage of the lull and opened fire, but again, neither of our shots appeared to do much damage to the behemoth.
As Hartek stood, the Ork actually looked surprised! "Oi! Youse tuff fer a little 'un, int ya!"
"Not dead yet!" Was all that Hartek could manage in response. He took a deep breath, looking around. "But all your mates are..."
"Youse a little bit cleverer than you look int ya? Youse got some smarts!" The creature was actually smiling.
Between the ragged rasping breaths that I could hear through the helmet speakers in his power armour, the Rogue Trader Regent chuckled weakly. It was clear he would need another trip to the Chirurgeon on his return to the ship after being on the receiving end of such a mighty blow. He took another gurgling breath and spoke; "I could say the same about you! I saw the way you led your boys!"
The Ork tapped its head with a giant finger, and spoke again. "I is the finkin' type, I am! Big Ork, big brain!" And then it laughed a deep, rolling grunting chuckle.
"Well..." Hartek nodded, "You want a job?"
"Like in smashin' fings?" The Ork asked.
Hartek nodded again. "Smashing what I tell you to smash!"
The Ork looked thoughtful, and stroked its chin, before laughing again, then stepped forward and slapped the Rogue Trader Regent on his back. "I like youse! Yeah, awright then! I like clever stuff, mebbe if I works fer youse and smashes stuff I'll get sum o' that clever from youse!" He slapped Hartek on the back again. I'm fairly sure that had Hartek not been wearing power armour, he would have been smashed to the floor!
We're good at making clever! What's your name Greenskin?"
The Ork drew itself up to its full, impressive, height. "I is Kolonel Shakgul" He indicated the Squig that was still bouncing around near his feet, "An dis iz Bari da Squig! Be careful wiv 'im, 'ee aint friendly like me. 'Ee's got a tempa, an 'ee bites!"
"Well, Kolonel, I am Kilgrim Hartek, Trader Regent and Warmaster of House Dureen. Do you swear to serve house Dureen?" Hartek paused, and then added "And hit those what I tells you to?"
"I'll do tha hittin' wot you tells me to!" Shakgul roared
"Good enough!" The Rogue Trader Regent thrust his hand forward, which was firmly grasped by the Kolonel, and the deal was sealed.
Shakgul turned around and bellowed "Oi! Listen up! All youse stand up! Any o' youse rapscallions wot is left, show yerselves! Come on boys!"
Around the battlefield in small clusters of Orks stood. The Kolonel shouted again, pointing in our direction. "Theze lot is our lot too now, so come 'ere!"
Almost two-hundred confused looking Greenskins made their way to our positions.
Ivanov walked over to me, and spoke in a low voice; "An interesting turn of events!"
I nodded my agreement, and Ivanov went on to explain that he had recognised the Orks as being of the Blood Axe Clan, and some of their number were made up of the elite types know as Stormboyz and Kommandos. The Blood Axes, apparently, are the Orks most likely to deal with the Imperium, and have even copied some Imperial tactics, and it was not unknown for them to be found in the service of humans as mercenaries.
House Dureen had just acquired itself a new Cohort of surprisingly disciplined shock troops.
++ End of record ++
Not to be pushy, but Papa needs his next fix of story-time-goodness.
It's great to see the character's perspective on the "adventure" and it certainly motivates me to be a better GM.
Where is the weekly?
Suffer not the rule Lawyers just enjoy your self!!! - Slaneesh Acolyte
I will infect you with my views!!! - Nurgle Rule Lawyer
Oups... I must have read it wrong, was it not like that before? Anyway doesn't mean all those game you lost are now forfeeted... - Tzench Liar
BECAUSE IT CAN'T HAPPEN!!!!!! The book says so!!! I hate you all, I quit this shit. - Khorne rule gardian and whinner!
Ops, sorry chaps I forgot to mention that I was going on holiday for a week (Though the players did want to continue without me). Here is the writeup from two weeks ago and we play again tomorrow
Feedback as always is welcome.
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: LELE, THE LELE SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
One of the more remote holds of the Furnace of Redemption was assigned to the Orks, and as they were transported to the vessel from the surface I noted with interest that the vehicles and wargear of the Greenskins could be at best be described as ramshackle. I have no idea how it worked; by any measurable means it was barely better than scrap, yet, undeniable it was extremely effective in the hands of the Orks. If anything, if any vital component failed, the creatures seemed to find that more satisfying, and certainly more entertaining, than when the equipment functioned correctly. Perhaps I should rephrase that; they seemed to find the fate of the Ork that was operating the machinery more satisfying, and certainly more entertaining, than when the equipment functioned correctly. I have never seen mechanical catastrophes met with such abandoned hilarity...
I arranged for the injured Rogue Trader Regent to be transported to the ship too, on a separate shuttle of course, (I did not want to run the risk of the Orks mistaking him for a tasty morsel to snack upon), and he was deposited in the Medicae Chamber. This left Lieutenant Ivanov and I to tie up the loose ends of the trade deal, and each to pursue any of our own interests should we wish to.
I attempted to persuade High Researcher Lerouche of the benefits of detaching some of his men to travel with us, and to allow us to share research. He was a little reserved with regard to this suggestion, however, in the name of friendship he agreed to consider it, and to ask for volunteers to accompany us in the future. I, in return, promised to set up an area of our asteroid base in Footfall with special quarters within which I would modify the atmosphere to match their own. I also spent some time with their scientists and engineers, as the Lelians referred to their specialists, to study their technology. It was similar in many ways to Imperial technology, although the differences were enough to make modifying our own technology with ideas gleaned from the more efficient way the Lelians constructed items difficult at best, and probably involving a major overhaul of any vehicle of ship. Having said that, creating a device from new would make this process much more straight forward, and I found my thoughts turning towards the Grand Cruiser His Undying Will undergoing repair in Footfall; if I could include some of the knowledge I was picking up here on that vessel, then she would become far more effective than equivalent ships of her class.
As I was preparing to leave the researchers to their work, one made a comment regarding warp travel. As the Lelians did not have psykers within their population, this was effectively beyond their reach, so they had been researching other ways of rapid travel over long distances. This technology was still experimental but they claimed to have a number of test journeys out of the system. Needless to say I was interested in this, and having made a brief study of the technical specifications, and made some suggestions, asked that they keep me up to date on their research.
Ivanov spent time with the Lelian military, observing their drills, offering advice, and making suggestions where he thought they would benefit from his knowledge. General Theodore seemed to appreciate his efforts, and the two men seemed to get on well, as far as I could tell; in fact their relationship developed in such a way that the General readily agreed to an exchange of a number of weapons and pieces of wargear between the Lelians and ourselves. The Lelians generally seemed to suffer from a lack of effective armoured suits, and really only focussed on torso protection, so Ivanov delivered a number of sets of the different armour types, and a selection of the classes of weapons, that we held in our armoury, and in return he secured fifteen pulse carbines, fifteen pulse rifles, and a good supply of ammunition for our use. Several of these pulse weapons were delivered to me for reverse engineering.
All negotiations completed, we returned to the ship.
I turned my attention to treating the injured Hartek, and my efforts, combined with the care he had already received, meant that by the time we had made our warp jump to the Saphirus System, the Rogue Trader Regent was almost completely healthy again. I am getting to know his abhuman physiology and genetics quite well now! From here we planned to jump into the system that our scout ships had identified as being inhabited by humans, and where they encountered the ships of the Fel Dynasty.
The journey through the warp was uneventful, however, Lieutenant Ivanov, who had been placed in temporary command while Hartek was indisposed did cause some concern amongst the crew, when for a brief period of time he seemed to be deep in conversation with people who were not present. The stories that reached me suggested that the topic of these strange conversations seemed to revolve around the loss of a ship in the warp, and who was to blame. Understandably, the crew that knew of this became quite nervous in the Lieutenants' presence, although the old hands did seem to have some measure of sympathy, and Ivanov was presented with a mug of amasec laced recaf to help him steady himself.
On arrival in the Saphirus System, we paused long enough to transmit instructions to our representatives on Dropas, instructing them to undertake cargo runs to Lele, and giving them the details of the warp route, and in return we received updates with regard to the local system. The ships' systems were recalibrated and we prepared to jump to the unknown Fel occupied system.
++ LOCATION: THE FURNACE OF REDEMPTION SYSTEM 0105, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
Ivanov ordered a auger sweep of the system the moment we appeared in real space, and I managed to boost the ships systems to aid with this, however, instead of offering helpful advice and checking my calculations as he had done previously, Tech-Priest Calldia refused to offer any aid telling me that I had been neglecting him lately. I could not see that this was the case as he had been as enthusiastic as I was when studying the new Lelian technology, and his interest in the biology of the Rogue Trader Regent was still evident as I treated his injuries sustained in the battle with the Orks. Slightly disturbed, I let his truculence slide and focussed on the tasks in hand, hoping to re-engage his interest that way. It is somewhat difficult to deal with a Tech-Priest sulking like a child when he is in your head with you, and you need to focus on a technical task.
And yes, Calldia, when I speak of a sulky child I am referring to you...
The system was centred on a medium sized red star with five major stellar objects orbiting it. Four of the five objects were barren or uninhabitable, however there was one planet that was not only habitable, with a breathable atmosphere and Terra style gravity and temperature, but also showed signs of a reasonably developed population, and interestingly, the planet seemed to be almost entirely water covered, with a single island, of around fifteen kilometres square, in the equatorial region. This was the world that our scouts had detected the Fel ships interacting with.
There were a number of cities built on platforms and stilts scattered around the globe, and the scans were picking up radiological emissions, suggesting nuclear power was in use. Our scans also detected a ship in orbit, and this was quickly identified as a Vagabond Class Merchant Trader. We continued our course towards the habitable planet, and the Rogue Trader Regent decided not to hail them, but rather to go to silent running procedures and attempt to close on them undetected.
We slipped in to orbit, and closed to within a few kilometres of our target, in the aft arc and the ship did not give any indication that it was aware of our presence. We scanned the vessel in detail and hailed her. The ship was called The Throne, and was equipped in the way of the majority of vessels of her class; well suited for defending herself, but outclassed by a warship of the capabilities of the Furnace of Redemption.
Hartek broadcast a vox message, "Attention The Throne. Please state your purpose in this system." Unsurprisingly we detected her systems suddenly coming online.
"Who the devil is this!" Came a somewhat flustered and panicky reply from the trader ship. "Why should I tell some cutpurse sneak who I am if they don't identify themselves to me?"
"This is the Dureen Dynasty ship, the Furnace of Redemption. I am Kilgrim Hartek, Rogue Trader Regent and sworn Warmaster to House Dureen. Now, who are you?"
After a slight pause there was a reply. "I'm Captain Brown!"
Hartek smiled at the image of the female Captain on the display; "I'll just bet you are!" The bridge crew did well to hide their sniggers and grins.
The woman obviously did not like that one bit. "Who the hell do you think you are?" She demanded. "Sneaking up on someone like that!" She took a deep breath and seemed to calm herself then. "I am acting on behalf of the Fel Dynasty in the capacity of a merchant trader."
She looked to be in her mid-fifties, with a worn and weather beaten face, suggesting that she spent some time away from her vessel. She was fairly plain, and this appearance translated to her unremarkable clothes which were plain and work-man like.
The Rogue Trader regent signalled to mute the transmission, and after receiving confirmation turned to the Officer of the Watch, Orbest Dray.
"She's not wearing a hat!" Hartek was incredulous. "I don't understand..."
Dray smiled weakly, "Women, are strange creatures my Lord, as fickle as the warp!"
Hartek grunted, and ordered the transmission be restored with audio. "My dear Captain Brown, please accept my humblest, humblest apologies." He pointedly tipped his hat to her. "This is a terrible misunderstanding. We are only here to offer such help as we may to this world..."
"Well next time," she snapped, "You can bloody well not sneak up on us. You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
Fleshbags! If only she allowed herself a half decent cybernetic replacement, then a heart attack would be one worry she would not have!
Hartek smiled his most winning of smiles, and I was instantly suspicious about what was going on in his mind. He indicated that the transmission should be muted again.
"Mister Ivanov, go and get the Orks ready!" Ivanov nodded as Hartek turned back to the display, "Captain Brown, you must forgive me; I've been called away on urgent ship's business... I'm sure as a fellow Captain you understand... Perhaps we should continue this conversation later? Would you do me the honour of taking dinner with me aboard my ship?"
Captain Brown paused for a moment, looking slightly non-plussed. "I will see how busy I am. Out" And she cut the transmission.
"Mister Ivanov", Hartek called after the Lieutenant, "I believe I will visit the Orks with you - I have been reading up on Orkish culture!"
I had no desire to mingle with the xenos, but was intrigued by what may happen, so sent one of my servo skulls to record the meeting.
As they walked Hartek spoke. "You know the Ork is a fascinating creature! They have an innate, genetically programmed culture, with all the knowledge of technology they need to wage war."
Ivanov made a non-committal noise.
"You don't sound convinced Lieutenant?"
"They are xenos my lord, and I have had dealings with them before. They are a most implacable foe..." Ivanov frowned.
"Well, you must remember that these Orks are now our allies, and must be treated with the respect with which they are due...!" The Lieutenant looked uneasy at this, but did not argue.
The two men were joined by a detachment of Harteks Housecarl personal guard on the way, and as they reached Hold 51, the designated Ork barracks, and the largest area we had available for the Green skins. The group entered as one, with Hartek at the head.
My servo skull that was trailing them sampled the atmosphere, and judging by the readings of the impurities present, the smell must have been incredible. Looking at the reactions of the group of men following the Rogue Trader Regent, I do believe that my assessment did not perhaps convey the almost physical impact that the smell had, and with some amusement, I saw a number of men slip their breather masks over their faces.
The hold had been transformed; a small town had been built consisting of around thirty buildings; there were small generator boilers chugging away with smoke billowing from their vents, and the buildings themselves seemed to consist of a ramshackle collection of corrugated plates and metal sheets seemingly salvaged from the wreckage of the Ork ship on Lele, strung together in a semblance of construction. At the centre of the settlement was a small fort, which seemed to be garrisoned by the Orks we had previously identified as Stormboyz and Kommandos, although a number of smaller Orks hovering around the edge of the fort seemed to be attempting to emulate their larger kin. Hanging from the fort was a sign, and scrawled in a crude Low Gothic script, surrounded by strange runes, was "Bartertown". In places, there seemed to be a type of fungal vegetation growing from the deck plates and walls in the hold, and I on viewing the recordings I sent small teams of flamer armed maintenance servitors to ensure that none of the strange growth had spread beyond the limits of Hold 51.
Smaller Orkoids, which I have heard referred to by a number of names such as grots, snotlings and gretchin, were roaming around, seemingly intent on their own tasks. I am not entirely sure what the differences are between these sub-species, but if there is any difference at all, it appears to be size based. Further into the settlement, a pair of Orks were brawling, much to the amusement of their fellows, and as Harteks' group advanced further, I was able to make out a couple of smaller figures that were working on an Ork buggy that they appeared to have strapped a giant rocket to; these, I think, must be the Mekboyz that I have heard referred to by some of the Adeptus Mechanicus adepts. I am fairly certain however that when we catalogued the Greenskins on their embarkation of the ship there were none of these types present, although I do seem to remember hearing that Orks had a strange ability to develop quickly to fill niches within their society when required, but I had had no indication that it could happen so quickly...
As Hartek walked into Bartertown a number of the Orks turned to watch his group; they were all wearing a crude red and black tiger-striped uniform, and focussed on the group with thinly disguised malevolence. As more of the Orks noticed the interlopers, the cacophony of shrieks and growls that filled the hold fell away to silence. Scattered around the buildings, were a number of the spherical squigs; some seemed to be accompanying Orks, whilst others roamed Bartertown alone or in packs, and further squigs were kept in pens near the buildings.
The human group headed towards the fort at the centre of the settlement, shadowed by the smaller Orks who seemed quite excited by their presence. As they arrived, Kolonel Shakgul, obviously alerted to their arrival, stepped out to meet them. Bari the Squig was alongside him, on the end of a chain which was being held by a smaller Ork; even from the recording it was clear that the squig could have broken free whenever it felt like doing so, but seemed to have settled for dragging its unfortunate handler along in its wake, and generally making his life difficult. A second small Ork was standing further back; this one was dressed in black and was wearing a crude mask, and seemed to be making a show of moving "stealthily" in the shadows. I suddenly struck me that this was a parody of an Inquisitorial retinue, and this figure was the equivalent of an Imperial Assassin, and despite myself I laughed out load for the first time in many months.
Shakgul stopped in front of the Rogue Trader Regent, and the two leaders nodded to each other, then Hartek leapt forward and backhanded the Kolonel across the face! As he settled himself from the effort of landing the blow the Rogue Trader Regent spoke; "It's good youse lot is working fer me now! I likes havin' you 'ere, we'll make a good team!"
Initially Shakgul looked bemused by it all, but then he looked down at Hartek, and slapped him across the face in return! However, he appeared to realise that this was one Warboss showing the followers of another where he stood in the rankings, and did not use his power-claw, or put his full strength into the blow. Hartek was bloodied, but still looked relieved!
"Welcome to House Dureen Kolonel!" Smiled Hartek, although he did seem to be moving his jaw quite gingerly...
Shakgul grinned a tusky, toothy, fanged grin in return. "We's are glad to be 'ere! It's good innit?"
"I like what you've done with the place!" Hartek raised an eyebrow as he looked around. "Have you got everything you need?"
"Yeah! We's brought up loads of gear an' loot from der snappa-cracka that woz crashed, an' we can send da boyz out to collect stuff!"
"That might not be a good idea..." Hartek looked nervous. "They might take something that's needed..."
The Greenskin furrowed his large brows. "But my boyz is good at fixin' stuff!" He pointed to the smaller Orks who were tinkering with the buggy, one of which quickly tried to hide something behind its back; it was a briefcase sized box, and had the Holy symbol of the Adeptus Mechanicus imprinted on it.
Reviewing the recordings, it soon became clear why Ivanov had suggested to me that I increase maintenance patrols around this area of the ship... I am also pleased to report I had taken the man at his word, and had arranged the suggested patrols. I am beginning to recognise the quiet competence that the Lieutenant seems to possess.
My attention was drawn back to the recording by Harteks voice. "Thing is, Kolonel, this ship isn't Orky..."
"Well, we's can make it Orky!" Shakgul suggested.
"Yeah, we could, but it wouldn't work so well as we don't have enough Orks to make it work... It's a human ship, and humans don't think like Orks. Tell you what, you tell us what you want, and if we can, we'll get it for you - that's what being part of House Dureen means - we all work for each other as part of a big team - a big tribe!"
"Errr... Okay! That sounds good ter me! But one of me boyz says he has lots of plans fer the ship...! Ain't that right Mista Hammerdy?" He looked over to a smaller Ork clutching a large hammer who was nodding enthusiastically.
Hartek paused. "Tell you what. I'll get my Enginseer to come down and talk to Mister Hammerdy. How does that sound?"
The small Ork beamed with delight. Not a feeling I was sharing, if I am completely honest, and Calldia began mumbling to himself too, which did not help matters in the slightest.
"You wanna see the boyz? We's ready you knows. When's there gonna be some fightin'?" Shakgul asked.
"Well, funny you should say that. There's some smashin' coming along soon, for at least some of the boyz!" Hartek smiled encouragingly.
Shakgul grinned again, a feral glint in his eye, and then bellowed; "Right you maggots! Line up!"
The bigger Orks began to kick the smaller ones into position, and after thirty seconds of complete mayhem the Greenskins began to line up in an open space outside Bartertown. I have never seen anything like it in my life, and do not have the words to describe the rolling melee that resulted from such a simple order.
The recording picked up an aside from Hartek to Ivanov. "They're no Mordian Iron Guard, Number One, I grant you, but you have to credit their enthusiasm!"
Ivanov did not appear convinced.
Shakgul made to walk down the lines of Greenskins, and gestured for Hartek to follow, which he did. The lines of Orks stood upright, heels together and chests puffed out did look odd, but they towered over the Rogue Trader Regent.
"Good boyz dese, ain't they?" Shakgul asked
"Yes. They do you proud Kolonel!" Hartek answered, looking at the rabble in front of him.
To one side of the main body was a formation of a dozen large Orks, and these appeared to be very different from the others; they were extremely smart by Ork standards, and smart even by human standards. Their boots were shining, and all were wearing identical, well cared for, uniforms. They were standing at parade ground attention, and each was holding an identical position. It appeared that these were the surviving Stormboyz.
This was confirmed when Shakgul identified them as Gruttoof's Stormboyz, and introduced Hartek to Kaptin Gruttoof, who was almost as large as the Kolonel.
"Soldier! Do you like hitting things?" Hartek barked.
"Sir, I loves hittin' fings! Sir!" Bellowed the Kaptin in response.
Ivanov had hung back, and as he glanced around, he noticed a handful of large Orks paired off, and semi-concealed in the undergrowth around Bartertown. They seemed to hiding from the other Orks, and were attempting to sneak up on the settlement, but it looked like these Ork Kommandos were generally being ignored by their kin.
As the inspection progressed, a none too subtle voice from the back of the ranks was heard; "Oi! Why we workin' for dese stinkin' 'umies?"
Kolonel Shakgul slowly swivelled his head round in the direction of the speaker, and as he did so, all the nearby Orks leaned forward to get a better view of what was going to happen, one leaning over so far it fell on its face.
"Who said that? You's been telled before, no talkin' on parade! Oi! C'mon! Who sed dat?" Shakgul was getting increasingly angry...
Hartek and Ivanov followed the huge Greenskin as he continued to shout at his troops. "One of you's 'ad better tell me who sed it! Come on! Now!" His power-claw was active and blue sparks of power coruscated along the length of the weapon.
In the second row, an Ork raised its arm, and then pointed at one in the row in front of it. It was quickly followed by several others, all pointing in the same direction. The target of all the attention drew itself up to its full height, and stood stock still, and ramrod straight, but even on the recording it was obviously sweating profusely.
Shakgul moved slowly towards it, and then spoke; "Korporal Sticka?" The Ork holding the lead of Bari the Squig stepped forward, and Shakgul spoke again. "Stick 'im!"
As the Korporal began to move, Bari the Squig bounded forward, snapped his chain and leapt on the unfortunate Ork, then Korporal Sticka followed and began to kick the downed Greenskin with his heavy boots. After a few seconds of struggling and scuffling Bari seemed to become bored and ended the fight by biting the Orks' head off. As Bari was enjoying his meal, Sticka took the opportunity to loop the now shortened length of chain onto Bari's harness.
Kolonel Shakgul looked to Hartek and gave a knowing, approving nod in his direction, which Hartek returned. I reflected that both leaders seemed to use very similar disciplinary measures.
The whole diversion seemed to create much amusement amongst the small Orks scattered around the edges of the town.
Hartek turned his attention back to Kaptin Gruttoof. "How would you feel about hitting things for me?"
Gruttoof responded immediately; "Sir, don't care who I 'it stuff fer, as long as I get to 'it stuff, Sir!"
Hartek smiled and turned to Ivanov. "Number One, I think we've found our boarding party - if we need it...!" He looked over to the Kolonel. "We may need to borrow some of your boyz soon Kolonel..."
"No problem, Short humie!" Bellowed Shakgul "Me boyz can't wait fer it!"
The two groups bade each other farewell, with Hartek and Ivanov returning to the bridge. After some thought and discussion, it was decided that a direct attack on The Throne would be inadvisable as it could be construed as an act of piracy, so we turned our attention to the planet below to see if we could sabotage Fel's operations from there.
++ LOCATION: ORREMA, THE ORREMA SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
The world was relatively sparsely inhabited, with a total population of just two million, and was controlled by a series of eighteen noble merchant houses, however, there were just three major players; the Merchel Trading House, the Handrayana Combine, and the Coam Federation. There were also a small, but significant, number of people who had rejected the structured way of life prevalent on Orrema, and roamed the world living a nomadic, piratical life on large ships. Their histories showed that in the past there had been a number of additional factions, and indeed cities, however, several thousands of years previously there had been a global conflict, and many were destroyed. Since then an agreement had been struck never to attack each other's cities, and that agreement still held.
Although the civilisation was very much along the lines of the Imperial model, they had stagnated, and militarily were quite poorly equipped (possibly as a result of the non-aggression agreement), relying on slug throwers and stubbers, however, they had retained knowledge of atomics. We had already made contact with representatives of the different factions, and had discovered that the Coam Federation had made an agreement with Fel Dynasty, and as a result refused to have anything to do with us unless we could come up with a better offer, however, the other merchant houses were more than happy to speak to us.
Hartek called for a gun-cutter to be made ready, and with Ivanov at the controls, I joined him and a detachment of his Housecarls in the cabin and we descended to the surface.
The meeting was staged on neutral ground, and was reasonably successful, with each of the rivals of the Coam Federation eager to secure our support. They were happy to pass information to us with regard to their competitors; however, attempts to get them to combine their efforts to focus on the Coam Federation fell on deaf ears. Most professed their lack of surprise that the Fel Dynasty were not a trustworthy group, they had come to that conclusion themselves, and unsurprisingly they felt the same about Coam Federation. It was revealed that Hadarak Fel had attempted to sow discord and conflict amongst the inhabitants of Orrema by seemingly randomly picking the Coam Federation as an ally. Alarmingly they revealed that Fel had unbalanced the status quo by arming them, and had had received some atomics in return!
We thanked them for their time and requested some time for a private conference, something they Orremnians accepted without qualm, as they understood the need to keep trade discussions private, being merchants themselves.
Once we had our privacy, and I had scanned for any eavesdropping devices, Hartek raised the possibility of sabotaging the delivery of the trade supplies between the Fel Dynasty and the Coam Federation, in an attempt to make each side look unreliable to the other. We realised that this would be a long term effort, so looked for something that could make an impact in the short term, to prove how valuable we were to the Orremnians. We analysed the information that we had been given by the locals, and realised that the perfect opportunity had presented itself; the nomadic pirates had recently become more aggressive, and had occupied an area of the small landmass of the world. This small island was of immense significance to the Orremnians; they called it Home, as this was the place the first settlers lived when they came to Orrema, and the occupation was considered a desecration of the sacred ground.
We requested a resumption of the gathering and asked whether the occupation had coincided with Fel's intervention on the planet; there was much angry muttering amongst the delegates when they all realised that it did. Furthermore, they realised that the pirates had been increasingly targeting their holdings, and ignoring those of the Coam Federation. The anger in the meeting chamber was now tangible, and when we offered our aid in removing the interlopers from this sacred ground, and used our forces to strike back at the pirates on their ships they readily agreed, with one condition; Home should not be damaged in the assault. We had found our way to gain trust with the natives of this world.
We arranged for garrison units of House Dureen forces to be stationed within the major cities with orders to instruct the local forces in modern tactics and gave the leaderships of the individual factions contact frequencies to enable them to contact us in the event of an attack, arranging for a rotating roster of rapid reaction forces to be ready to deploy from the Furnace of Redemption. We began to scan the surface of the world to detect the movements of the pirate vessels, and to map the topography of Home, and started to put our military plans into action. We reserved our human forces for action on Home, and the Orks were designated as an anti-piracy force for exclusive use against the troublesome ships at sea.
The Boyz of the Dureen Dynasty attacked and boarded three large pirate vessels, and met fierce resistance on all of the assaults; something the Boyz were very appreciative of, and although they took some casualties forcing the landings there was no real doubt with regard to the final result; inevitably the defenders were quickly overrun. The happy Orks took loot and prisoners which were brought back to Bartertown - something I think that the Rogue Trader Regent will need to deal with in due course...
Overall, the Orks thought it was a thoroughly enjoyable week.
We turned our attention to the occupiers of Home, with the Rogue Trader Regent contacting them, and offering the opportunity to travel off world, saying that House Dureen was always appreciative of adventurous spirits, and they would be welcomed with the Dynasty with open arms. If they decided not to take this career opportunity, Hartek would be less understanding, and they would be forcibly removed from Home.
Diplomatically, we were not so successful, and despite the best efforts of Navigator Proscesu, we were unable to bring the Merchel Trading House and the Handrayana Combine onto common ground; there were too many generations of distrust standing between them, so we began to look to turn the mutual distrust to our advantage...
After the Rogue Trader Regent had spent some time with Lieutenant Ivanov, and having seen his competence at first hand, he decided to promote him to First Officer, potentially, I am sure to keep a closer eye on him, and ensure that his ambition did not spread any further than operational command of a star-ship.
++ End of record ++
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: ORREMA, THE ORREMA SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
Reports from the monitoring teams watching the Orks on their missions began to filter in, and it appeared that they were attempting to work out how to transport one of the capture surface ships onto the Furnace of Redemption. Although I could not really see how they were going to manage that, I thought that it would be interesting to observe the planning process they used to affect the salvage attempt. It turned out that after several hours of head scratching, and pacing around they gave up on the idea, and began to strip the ships of anything they considered useful, which looked to be anything not too sturdily constructed to remove from the hull.
As previously predicted, once the Rogue Trader Regent heard of the humans that were being taken as slaves by the Orks, he decided that he could not let it stand, although given his track record of not being overly sentimental about those who stand against the Dynasty, I was a little surprised that he did decide to intercede; after several moments pondering for a suitable approach he could take, he came up with a solution.
"Mister Ivanov!" Hartek summoned the new First Officer.
"Aye aye Rogue Trader Regent!" Ivanov stepped over to the command throne.
Hartek looked directly at him; "Mister Ivanov, please convey to Kolonel Shakgul my compliments on a job well done, and our thanks for bringing up the new recruits for the ships' company!"
Ivanov paused, realising what he was being asked to do. "Yes Sir. It would be my pleasure..." He lied, and boarded a guncutter to head down to the surface of Orrema. On his way to the shuttle bay he stopped by my workshop, and asked me to standby at the controls of the Teleportarium in case he needed a rapid extraction. I agreed, and linked a sensorium device into the vox link so that I could see whether the Lieutenant needed a rapid extraction, just in case he could no longer speak, or call for help for any reason.
As he disembarked from the guncutter, and stepped aboard the captured ships, Ivanov was struck by the carnage around him; there were hundreds of bodies, men, women, and children, and the smell of battle was still in the air. Small groups of humans were being beaten into submission and forced into work by the Orks. Ivanov watched almost wistfully, as the guncutter lifted away to adopt a holding pattern over the conglomeration of ships, he called out to one of the Orks.
"Where is the Kolonel?"
The Ork shrugged, and looked at a colleague who said "'Ees on da bridge, I fink!" before turning and kicking out at an old woman the Greenskin obviously thought was not working hard enough.
Ivanov nodded, and headed that way showing as much confidence as he could muster, watching the Orks that were dismantling the ships with interest. As he took in the scene he caught a pleading look from a woman who had fallen to her knees; "Help us my Lord!"
Before he could respond, and Ork dragged her to her feet by her hair; "Oi! You! Back to work!" The Ork looked at Ivanov; "Lazy!" and aimed a kick at the woman as she staggered away.
Ivanov arrived at the bridge and cleared his throat before speaking; "Well done Kolonel! Good Work..."
The Kolonel, surrounded by a number of his boyz, looked up. "Not really, 'umie, they weren't as good as your boys, but it's better than kicking each other!"
"Kolonel. I have to have a word with you..." Ivanov persisted.
"What do yer want?" growled Shakgul.
"The humans Kolonel. Rogue Trader Regent Hartek is very pleased with the new crew you've got him for the ship. So once we get them back to the ship we'll take them off your hands."
Shakgul glared at Ivanov, his Power Claw twitching. "You want these fings as crew?"
"Well, yes! They're no good to you..." The Lieutenant continued; "And as a thank-you we can get this superstructure onto the Furnace of Redemption for you to!"
"Really?" Shakgul stroked his beard, suddenly looking interested. "I likes that idea!" he exclaimed
"Well, Kolonel, I think you'll like this even more, we'll even make sure you get the engines to play with too!" Ivanov smiled widely.
"Hmmm..." Pondered the Kolonel, "I'd want some wartruks to put 'em on..."
The First Officer nodded, "We can give your boys everything they need to make your own special… Errr… Truks… Then nobody else would have vehicles like Kolonel Shakgul..."
"I is still listenin'" The Ork growled.
"Of course!" Ivanov smiled again. "I notice that you still haven't replaced you gun?"
"I needs a new shoota coz mine got busted..." Shakgul nodded. "Will it be loud?"
Already knowing what was coming next, I started planning the custom weapon I would need to build for the Ork, and sure enough, when Ivanov spoke again I heard myself being volunteered to create a "Very loud shoota, louder than anything else!"
To demonstrate, Ivanov drew his own hand-cannon and shot the nearest Gretchin, splashing tissue and blood all over the deck.
"See Kolonel, that's a loud pistol, but it's just a squeak compared to the noise your shoota will make!"
Personally, I think that Ivanov just wanted an excuse to kill a Greenskin; I have noticed that he does not seem to like them much, in fact he appears to dislike them much more than even the normal crew do.
The Kolonel roared with laughter, and then licked his hand, offering it to Ivanov, who paused, and then his smile fixed on his face, licked his own palm, and the two shook hands. "You's got a deal 'umie, now take yer worthless rats away!"
The First Officer called several guncutters from orbit, and loaded the survivors aboard, whisking them away to relative safety, before getting them medical help.
I sent several work teams to the planet, and at the end of the week, once the superstructure was removed from the hull of the ship, teleported the required section to the exact location, just outside Bartertown, that the Kolonel specified.
Once this was done I began the design of the Kolonel's new shoota. I settled on a tri-barrel design, painted red, of course. To generate the noise effect that Shakgul wanted so much, within the body of the weapon, I embedded a solid audio pickup and rebroadcast speakers that would take the already impressive noise of the firing weapon, and boost it further. Having noticed the Orks love for the colour, I arranged for all the ammunition to be made in the same red that the weapon case would be made in. Happy with the design, I began to collect all the parts I would require for the construction.
I realised that the standard human dimensions that I normal designed for would be inappropriate for this custom (perhaps, having listened to the Orks speak, that should be "kustom") weapon, so I despatched a junior Tech-Priest, and a servitor to take measurements of Shakgul's hand. They returned an hour later, the servitor damaged, with a perfect imprint of the Kolonels fist in its chest, and a white faced Tech-Priest. Although not ideal, the imprint was good enough for me to get the dimensions required, so I congratulated the young man, and set him to repairing the servitor. As he left I told him that as he had obviously struck up a rapport with the Ork, he would be my liaison with Kolonel Shakgul from now on. Although he smiled (I think), I am not entirely convinced he was happy; perhaps he is still far too human to realise the importance of his role... (Yes, Calldia, that importance is keeping us intact!)
Hartek had finally received intelligence reports outlining the Orremian factions. We had already met representatives of two of the three major factions, and most of the minor factions, be we now had a clearer idea of what we were dealing with;
+ + Intelligence assessment conducted by Adept Codename Alpha-sixer-four Theta-two for Rogue Trader Regent Hartek.
My Lord Hartek,
Within this data-slate is the information summary of the factions present on the world of Orrema in the Winterscales Realm.
• The Merchel Trading House, led by Chancellor Mordrek, a spindly, sallow-skinned elder, interested in allying with House Dureen, but slow at making decisions as everything must be considered. He refuses to mix religion and work. The House has a population of around 300,000 of which 1,800 are security forces.
• The Handrayana Combine, led by Pricep Goss, a stoic, merchant-priest, also interested in an alliance with House Dureen, but religion would have to take an important role in any relationship. The religion is compatible with the Imperial Creed, although there is some deviation, which can be used as an excuse to remove this faction if necessary. The Combine has a population of around 300,000 of which 1,800 are security forces.
• Coam Federation, led by President Swartz who had refused to have any contact with House Dureen as they are allied with the Fel Rogue Trader Dynasty. The Federation has a population of around 400,000 of which 2,400 are security forces.
Of the fifteen minor factions three are of particular interest;
• The Berg Freehold, led by Lord Wentzelan, an arrogant but open-minded man, seen as a fair leader and popular with his people.
• The Koho Republic, led by Viscount Spry, a cheerful champion. This is an unpopular faction with the others, and was once a major power, however, was brought down by a coalition of the former Koho allies. They appear very willing to make a deal with House Dureen if we support them.
• The Valo Contract, led by Sir Premis, a self-righteous, vocal opponent of any off-worlders.
The populations of the minor factions average out at around 56,000 each, with around 400 serving as members of the security forces.
The final group have already been introduced to us as pirates, but on contact with them, they describe themselves differently, calling themselves Travellers who reject the mainstream way of life.
• The Travellers, have no clear leader, and are broken down into individual "tribes", but look to a group, or council of elders for guidance. There were around 133,000 of them prior to our initial assaults.
Overall, across the factions, the security forces are a mix of paramilitary police and naval marines (not to be confused with the Holy Astartes, of course), they have access to wheeled armoured vehicles, and a limited amount of fast air and some transport assets, but little in the way of support weapons.
My Lord, I hereby conclude my summary.
For the Glory of House Dureen and the Imperium, and in the name of the Emperor of Mankind. + +
Hartek summoned the senior survivors from the Ork assaults of the surface vessels, and spoke to them about joining the Dynasty, and was obviously very persuasive as they were more than happy to sign on. They had been self-sufficient in their previous lives, and as a result brought with them many skills that a normal voidsman may not have, so they were assigning them specialist roles within our crews; I believe now that amongst other things, we now have a Furnace of Redemption' beer in production. Several of our new friends also agreed to go amongst their people on the planet, spreading the word of House Dureen and recruiting on our behalf.
Another change was made when Hartek presented Kolonel Shakgul with a new hat, by way of thanks for his good work to date. The hat was very similar to his existing one, however was in House Dureen colours, and whilst his old headgear was unadorned, the new one had two large feathers sprouting from it. I have to admit that both I and Tech-Priest Calldia were somewhat bemused by this, however the Ork seemed very pleased with his gift.
Navigator Proscesu began using the scans of the world, tied in with the reports of the survey teams to construct a detailed map of the planet, with a natural focus on Home and the trade routes between the floating cities. This is something that we may have cause to thank him for over the coming weeks, as a distinct tactical advantage can be gained from the possession of such data. I believe he was also mapping the other worlds of the system and the routes in and out, however I must confess to being distracted by the technical challenges presented to me when I was asked to transport the large surface ship components to the Orks barracks, so I cannot say with any certainty whether he managed to complete this task or not.
The Rogue Trader Regent arranged to meet the occupiers of Home, and along with the First Officer and his personal guard of Housecarls, and some of the new recruits to the Dynasty, made the journey to the small landmass in a guncutter. He left a full Cohort of troops on alert in the shuttle bays of the Furnace of Redemption, obviously anticipating a worst case scenario. I, as usual, piggy-backed a narrow beam data feed from the transmitter of his power armour to keep track of events; I am not entirely certain whether he knows I do this, however, I take the fact that he has not challenged me about it means that I have his tacit approval. Anyway, I see it as quite a sacrifice on my behalf; it gets quite crowded in my head, what with my own thoughts, Calldia's valued advice, and additionally managing this extra data feed directly into my cranial cogitators, while keeping abreast of any developments that may require my intervention is all very tiring.
The things I do for this Dynasty - if I still needed to breathe I would be sighing about now...
Hartek and his group were immediately the centre of attention when they landed on Home, and were rapidly approached by dozens of the Travellers who had settled there. The area was obviously artificially created, as there was no surface flora native to Orrema, and, from the information I was receiving, had the feel of a well maintained park more usually seen on a wealthy Imperial world, although there were several ruined buildings observable too. I surmised that these were where the first settlers lived when they arrived, and had been retained as a tribute to them. Around Home, around thirty surface ships of varying sizes lay at anchor, the larger ones several hundred metres out to sea.
The Housecarls were ordered to stay with the guncutter, and Hartek motioned to Ivanov to follow him, muttering "I've always wanted to say this..." He turned to one of the travellers, and spoke more clearly; "Take me to your leader!"
The locals looked at each other, then one replied, "We have no leader - we are simply a grouping of tribes. You may speak to the council if you wish?"
"Aye!" Hartek nodded, "I would!"
The locals led him to a grouping of larger tents, and waiting for him was the council of thirty elders, although the name "elder" seemed to be an honorific, as many were quite young. The conversation and exchanges of pleasantries were long and tedious, every time I have to review meetings such as this I am reminded how inefficient some of the fleshbags are in their communication. Once more I find myself feeling the urge to sigh.
In an efficient summary, the Travellers Council wanted to know what Hartek wanted, and why he was getting involved in the affairs of the Orremnians. They were told that the cities were determined to end the current way of life of the Travellers, and that he had been called on, as an outsider, to aid in this. He continued that he sympathised with the Travellers, after all Hartek himself roamed the black between the stars in much the same way that they travelled their seas, and wanted to offer them the opportunity to do the same, and thus present an alternative to the bloodshed that the city dwellers wanted.
Predictably the Travellers were not keen on giving up the life that they had, and were resistant to the Rogue Trader Regent's words, so he decided to add a little steel to his words, when they stated derisively that the city folk and by extension Hartek himself, could do nothing about them should they just chose to board their ships and roam the waters of the planet again. After all, they argued, there were hundreds of ships, and it would take an age to find them all, and longer to do anything about them! The lance strike that Hartek called on one of the larger ships out at sea, vaporising it instantly, shocked them into silence at first, but then drew anger.
They refused to speak further with the Rogue Trader Regent, and he was forced to leave empty handed. I knew then that we were now not far from initiating military action.
Over the next few days we used the Furnace of Redemption to track the Travellers ships that decided to leave their positions at anchor, which proved to be half of the total number that Hartek had seen. The general picture was one of people who were not willing to change their minds.
Our next diplomatic efforts were more successful. Hartek arranged to meet Viscount Spry of the Koho Republic, who was more than pleased to receive the attentions of the off-worlders.
Lieutenant Ivanov took the controls of a guncutter, with myself, Navigator Proscesu, and the Rogue Trader Regent with a number of his guards taking our places in the rear cabin.
The descent through the atmosphere to cruising height, although uneventful, was bumpy and turbulent as we dropped through storm systems, but soon we were in clear air again. Judging by the manner of the flight however, I believe that the First Officer was attempting to ram home some point or other to Hartek by being fairly aerobatic in his piloting style. The non-augmented humans seemed to suffer some form of nausea, while I amused myself by calculating the interesting trajectories that we were flying.
Suddenly, from the cockpit Ivanov's voice rang out; "The auspex has detected unidentified contacts closing fast on an intercept, and possible attack course. Strap yourselves in people!" He then called to the Furnace of Redemption for air support to back us up, but we knew it would take a while for it to reach us.
Although unfamiliar with the heavy weapons mounted on the guncutter, I ran some calculations and realised with my augmetics and logis implant I had a better chance of hitting fast moving targets than most, so strapped myself in to the gunnery seat on the port side of the craft, before directly connecting with targeting systems. A crewman leapt into the starboard gunnery seat, and we prepared to defend ourselves.
It quickly became clear that the atmospheric aircraft were hostile as they split into three pairs and turned onto different headings to split our defensive fire. Although able to track and fire quite easily, my shots in the ensuing combat were not that effective; I only managed a single hit, although I like to think I worried the enemy pilots somewhat.
That the aerial dogfight was won was down to some outstanding flying by Lieutenant Ivanov, who out-manoeuvred the fighters with the heavier guncutter and allowed the Navigator to drop the rear ramp and use his warp-eye to assail the attackers so effectively that two crashed into each other, while another lost control and crashed into the sea. One, obviously damaged, turned tail and fled the scene, whilst another, out-manoeuvred by Ivanov's skill at the controls, over corrected before crashing into the unforgiving waters below, leaving the last aircraft to be shot down by Ivanov.
There was no sign of any survivors from the enemy aircraft, and in return we had taken some minor damage to the hull of our vessel, and those of us in the rear cabin who were unfortunate enough to succumb to the seductive power of the uncovered warp-eye, were left feeling weak and somewhat damaged. I did what I could for the injured and listened as the others discussed the identity of our mysterious attackers; the aircraft bore a small red star symbol that did not match any insignia listed in our intelligence cogitators as belonging any known faction. It looked as though this would need further investigation.
Ivanov suggested that we return to the Furnace of Redemption, however, I countered that we should continue with our planned meeting, after all, if Viscount Spry was not expecting us to arrive, we would have discovered our enemy. Hartek agreed with my assessment and we resumed our flight to Koho.
It was quickly evident that the Viscount was not behind the attack, as he and a group of his dignitaries were waiting for us and they all expressed shock when hearing of the attempt on our lives. Either that or he was cleverer than we gave him credit for, and was covering all angles...
The Koho Republic had fallen from power two generations previously, largely due to the autocratic style of governorship, and this fall was reflected in the architecture, which although fine and regal in appearance was obviously in need of some maintenance indicating that the finances had not been available to do so over recent years.
Spry himself was tall and thin, and had the typically aristocratic bearing seen around the Imperium, he wore a be-medalled uniform and sported a fine moustache. He obviously saw himself as a cut above the others of his world, but was very hospitable to us, offering us rooms in his palace to refresh ourselves. We all accepted, with the exception of Ivanov who elected to wait for the reinforcements he had called for. The Viscount accepted this without qualm, and even left the Lieutenant a guide to bring them all to us on their arrival.
Unfortunately, when asked, none amongst the Viscount's entourage could identify the faction represented by the symbol that the aircraft bore, so they surmised that the markings were either false, or that they belonged to some independent group they knew nothing of. However, they did profess surprise, as outside of the major factions no single force could even put six fighters into the air; the Viscount himself said that even at the height of their power, when the Koho Republic was the dominant faction on Orrema, they could only raise two squadrons of twelve aircraft each, and that was an absolute maximum.
As the conversation progressed, it became obvious that Viscount Spry wanted us as allies. His conversation was littered with phrases like "Opportunity abounds for those willing to make new allies, and those willing to take the step of new friendship" and "With the right support I could put right the betrayal of my family".
Hartek was candid with the Viscount, and support was offered to the Koho Republic as long as it was understood that once they had a dominant position on Orrema, the Viscount would be ruling as a Planetary Governor, with minimal outside interference, but in the name of House Dureen, and for the profit of both. Spry readily agreed to this and outlined his plans to take back the power his family had lost.
Effectively, he intended to make an example of some of the smaller factions, before striking one of the major factions hard.
Hartek nodded. "If I were to receive persuasive evidence pointing at those that attacked House Dureen then I could not fail to support any attack on the perpetrators..."
"My intelligence network is far reaching." Spry smiled, and told the Rogue Trader Regent "I have operatives imbedded in all the other cities. I'm certain that the evidence you require will be forthcoming. I will dispatch salvage teams to retrieve the wreckage of your attackers, no doubt we will find symbols and insignia of the enemy on those craft, and we will be able to tie it all together. You will have your evidence, Rogue Trader."
Ivanov spoke up. "Obviously the red star is misdirection, aimed to confuse matters..."
"Obviously!" Viscount Spry's smile got wider, as he realised that he was thinking along the same lines as the leaders of the Dureen Dynasty.
"In that case, Viscount Spry, I look forward to a long, profitable, and mutually beneficial association!" Hartek stood and shook the taller mans hand.
We returned to the Furnace of Redemption, and Hartek prepared to activate the "training team" units we had placed within the target settlements of the Merchel Trading House, simply picked by Hartek as they were assessed as being the slowest to react to a crisis. The troop’s orders were to decapitate the leadership of each city, integrating their actions with the external assaults when they were launched in a series of lightning attacks. However, first we would have to deal with the squatters on Home; three Cohorts of Dureen troops were given notice to prepare for action, with a fourth set to work as a mobile reserve.
As things are wont to do in the Expanse, however, events took an unexpected turn when we received an astropathic message from Port Wander. The Administratum there had heard rumours of the death of Rico Dureen, and were demanding the return of the Dureen Rogue Trader Warrant of Trade, and the confiscation of all the assets of the Dynasty. They had started by impounding The Lux and her cargo of Hartek fruit, and the Rogue Trader Regent was now left with a difficult situation to deal with from half a sector away.
++ End of record ++
Suffer not the rule Lawyers just enjoy your self!!! - Slaneesh Acolyte
I will infect you with my views!!! - Nurgle Rule Lawyer
Oups... I must have read it wrong, was it not like that before? Anyway doesn't mean all those game you lost are now forfeeted... - Tzench Liar
BECAUSE IT CAN'T HAPPEN!!!!!! The book says so!!! I hate you all, I quit this shit. - Khorne rule gardian and whinner!
Next episode, FYI my work shifts are going crazy at the moment so the weekly game will be jumping around different days so the writeups might not come out as constant.
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: ORREMA, THE ORREMA SYSTEM, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
There was little that we could do directly at such distance with the pressure that the Administratum was putting on the Dynasty, so the decision was made to call in a favour from the Inquisition, that organisation that had used our services so regularly. Interrogator Helbrech responded to our requests, and although he was unable to do anything himself, he passed the request along his chain of command, and the mysterious Inquisitor who he reported to agreed intercede on behalf of House Dureen. Of course, I do not think for a minute that this will be the end of the matter, and no doubt this Inquisitor will want something in return eventually.
However, as Hartek so eloquently phrased it; "If some Emperor-damned Inquisitor waltzes in and demands another Emperor-damned favour from us, whether we owe him one or not doesn't matter, effectively we have no real choice, so let's make the bastards work for us for a change!"
I cannot say that I find much to disagree with there...
We turned our attention to the matters we could deal with directly, and focussed on removing the Travellers from Home. The 5th, 11th and 12th Cohorts were ordered to prepare for action, and the 46th prepared to act as a reserve, with the Stormtroopers on standby to handle any surface ships that may choose to intervene. I attached myself to the mobile Field Medicarium units that had been setup in the back of a number of the guncutters, feeling that my talents would be best utilised in dealing with casualties, something that Calldia agreed with whole heartedly as this should keep me off the front lines. Air cover would be provided by several flights of guncutters and by Ivanov in the Fury interceptor. Viscount Spry was invited onto the Furnace of Redemption as an observer, and watched events unfold on the holo-projector as the images mirrored those on the planet.
Hartek had ordered a number of reconnaissance flights, and combined with Navigator Proscesu's map and the orbital auger scans we had developed a good understanding of the defensive organisation of the Travellers, and planned our deployments accordingly.
Operation Domestos, as the assault was named, began with a stirring speech from the Rogue Trader Regent which the troops seemed to enjoy and appreciate if the cheering is anything to judge by. The initial landing was split into two parts; 5th Cohort deploying in the south-west of Home with orders to hold the enemy that had been detected in that area, and the 11th and 12th Cohorts deployed to the south-east, with orders to overrun and destroy the enemy units there, before pushing North up the coast to destroy further Traveller units entrenched in the North East. All Cohorts would then push towards the centre of home to surround and defeat the remaining enemy units detected in that location. I attached a number of servo-skulls to the units to record the action, and chosen troopers had vid and pict capture devices attached to their helmets, for the purpose of creating an official record and for information broadcasts around Orrema once the operation was completed.
The initial landings were unopposed; however, as soon as the Dureen units moved off from the landing zones they came under effective fire and suffered some casualties. The soldiers pushed forwards, and supported by very effective attacks by the air cover against bunkers and other fortified ground positions, quickly achieved the initial aims of the landings. The southern half of Home was firmly under Dureen control, with the enemy in the south-east destroyed in the first four hours, with those in the south-west pinned into their defensive positions and their combat effectiveness being rapidly degraded. I deployed in the second wave, and am more than happy to report that the Field Medicarium performed flawlessly; over fifty percent of the casualties that reported to the facility were able to return to the frontlines within the hour, preserving the momentum of the attack. Of those that could not be returned to the battle, their swift treatment meant that their long term recovery was far more certain than it would otherwise have been.
The Omnissiah smiles on those that marshal their resources efficiently.
The surviving enemy forces attempted to disengage from the combat to retreat towards the other Traveller units, however, our people had read the battlefield well, and they found themselves pinned into position and unable to extract themselves from their perilous location. The superior training and equipment of House Dureen troops was obvious during this phase of the battle, and the hapless enemy units were destroyed in their defences. The battle-plan was holding well, and 11th and 12th Cohorts pushed north, with the 5th Cohort holding the high ground overlooking the remaining enemy dug in to the ruins and wooded areas towards the central region of Home.
The subsequent battle in the north of the island was more costly; the travellers had had longer to fortify their positions, and the Dureen troops had to advance over areas of clear ground, exposing them to the accurate defensive fire. While the final result of the battle here was the same as the previous ones, with the Travellers utterly defeated by the combined attentions of the ground troops and once again, effective air support, the gallant 11th Cohort suffered significant casualties.
Basilisk heavy artillery had been landed in the second wave and ordered to setup on the high ground in the South of Home. From here, their reach effectively covered the island in its entirety, meaning that they dominated the remaining known enemy positions. No attempt was made to camouflage their location; they were not necessarily there to be used, more as a demonstration of the availability of overwhelming firepower to demoralise the enemy. 5th Cohort were now effectively a screen for this artillery as their positions placed them between the Travellers defences and the high ground, essentially offering a disincentive for the enemy to try anything creative to negate this new threat. Realistically, the travellers were not in any sort of position to do anything about the big guns, however, a field commander who is over-confident has the tendency to lose battles, and Hartek had no intention of losing this battle.
The 12th Cohort pivoted south-west from the freshly defeated enemy and began to advance towards the remaining known Travellers who were being held in position by the 5th Cohort, leaving the depleted the 11th Cohort in charge of the prisoners that had been taken during Operation Domestos so far.
As the enemy positions began to be surrounded, Lieutenant Ivanov broadcast a vox message to Hartek; "Rogue Trader Regent, perhaps an approach should be made to the survivors that further bloodshed will achieve nothing...?"
Hartek paused a few seconds before replying. "A capital suggestion Number One, I hereby authorise you to act as my representative in these talks!"
I am sure that I heard muted swearing from Ivanov's vox feed.
The First Officer skilfully piloted the Fury interceptor to a touchdown in the landing zone, and commandeered a vehicle to take him to the 5th Cohort positions. At the same time, the reserve Cohort, the 46th were deployed to replace the decimated 11th in the North, and the Stormtroopers were called into action to take the surface ships at anchor around Home. As they moved into position from the Furnace of Redemption it became clear that the majority of the Travellers were ashore, so the ships were brought under House Dureen control in short order leaving the enemy still on the island completely stranded, and with no means of escape.
On arrival at the 5th Cohort positions, Ivanov wasted no time in requesting parley with the leader of the surviving Travellers. The meeting was agreed, and accompanied by one of my servo-skulls, dispatched to record the meeting so we would have proof of our attempts to end the conflict by all means necessary should we need it, the First Officer cautiously headed to the neutral meeting place. Waiting for him was a young looking man covered in some form of crude war paint, and carrying a lasgun, (obviously one of the weapons supplied by that damned interfering Haderak Fel) to which he had added a number of colourful feathers for some unknown reason.
Before the First Officer could open his mouth the young man spoke, his voice shrill; "We will never surrender to you invaders!"
Ivanov looked at him, and slowly reached into a pocket and retrieved a hip-flask, from which he took a swig.
"Drink?" He asked the Traveller, raising an eyebrow. There was no response, so Ivanov continued; "Now there are a couple of things we can do. We can take you out from orbit, like we destroyed the ship a few weeks ago. We can bomb and strafe you like we've done to the other units in this area. We can put an assault in over land. Or we can bombard you from distance using those..." He indicated the Basilisks. "Or, and this is worth thinking on, we can all stand down, you can join your compatriots who have already agreed to come with us on our great adventure, and no-one else needs to die!"
The young man looked thoughtful, but still suspicious.
"You do realise" Ivanov continued, "That it's not us that want you away from here? It's the city folk who have got tired of the raiding, and asked us to remove you... If you come with us, you'd be actively encouraged to do what you have been so far... But on a grander scale!"
"We've heard the fighting!" The young man finally responded. "We know you've lost many men! We'll defeat you too..."
Ivanov smiled sadly, "We've lost men, but not as many as you think, our medicae facilities are better than you assume. And we now hold most of this island; your compatriots are dead or have surrendered. And we can deploy reinforcements whenever we like."
"The other tribes are not as dedicated as us! I am not surprised they surrendered..." The Traveller shot back.
"It's a shame that you seem most concerned about the differences between your own people. And the differences you have with us..." Ivanov said thoughtfully. "We simply see the similarities, the common ground that we share, and the potential! All I ask is you discuss the offer with your people, and we meet again in an hour to continue the conversation."
The young man paused again. "Two hours." He stated, and when Ivanov nodded, he turned on his heel and walked away.
The Rogue Trader Regent called a command conference over the vox network, and once I had patched all the feeds in, we began to discuss the possibilities that had been raised by Ivanov's conversation with the young Traveller leader. After several minutes of discussion and clarification, Hartek stunned us all with a suggestion.
"Why don't we get hold of a small ship or two for them, and let them do what they do on this world for us, except around the Expanse? Leave them independent, but tied in to our House, and with a certain amount of duty to us?"
I paused, then spoke, "Use them as explorers? That could work... We would need to train them first though..."
Hartek spoke again; "Agreed. They would need to learn the skills to operate a star-ship, but "explorers" would be a good way to describe what I have in mind..."
The more we considered the idea, the better it seemed, and with Hartek taking the lead, we all made our way to the agreed parley point.
The same young man who had spoken to Ivanov appeared once again, flanked by half a dozen of his fellows. Hartek nodded a greeting, and then with the minimum of preamble and fuss made the offer. The Travellers seemed shocked at first, but readily agreed to a truce as they liked the idea that was being presented; they agreed to vacate Home and board their ships to discuss the offer in more detail with all the tribes scattered around the world. I suggested to the Rogue Trader Regent that we give anyone who wished a limited tour of the Furnace of Redemption, accompanied by some of the Travellers who had already agreed to work with the Dynasty so they could get an idea of life upon a void-faring vessel; Hartek considered the idea for a second, and nodded, passing the offer on to our potential allies.
I turned my attention to the Travellers' wounded, and with permission of their leadership, and the Rogue Trader Regent arranged for them to be transported to our Aid Posts to be treated by the medicae staff there. Instructions were given that the enemy wounded be given the same care and attention as our own injured, which it appeared was appreciated by all concerned. I do not know what else the fleshbags expected, it is clearly inefficient to let large numbers of wounded die, or remain ineffective; a simple grasp of logic and statistics should make that clear, however, the Omnissiah works in mysterious ways, and if they think better of us for preserving the lives of potential allies, then so be it.
The Rogue Trader Regent stressed to the Travellers that the offer we were making was time sensitive as the Dynasty had various other irons in the fire, and could not neglect those while they prevaricated over the offer. I offered a communication device that the Travellers could fit to each of their ships, which would give them the ability to communicate directly to the Furnace of Redemption should they have any questions, which they accepted, along with the notion that they had limited time to accept, or reject our offer; they said that they would have an answer for us within a standard month. Of course, an additional benefit of the communication devices I had created was that they allowed us to track the ships from our position in orbit with the minimum of fuss. Negotiations concluded, we parted on surprisingly cordial terms.
Viscount Spry seemed to be suitably impressed by both our military and diplomatic efforts, and appeared to feel that he had made the correct decision in allying with us. He had obviously been paying attention during his previous discussions with Hartek, as when asked by the Rogue Trader Regent whether his intelligence network had discovered the identity of our attackers of a few days previously, he nodded, before speaking.
"Rogue Trader Hartek, I am ashamed to have to report to you that my agents have uncovered evidence that one of my fellow leaders was behind the dastardly assault!" Looking suitably grave, he continued; "I can hardly believe that any faction would try to kill travellers to our world, but the proof I have is irrefutable, and it pains me to say that it was the Merchel Trading House that betrayed our world so heinously!"
Hartek sat down before responding. "I, for one, am shocked and disappointed..."
"As am I..." Spry nodded sadly.
"What are your feelings Number One?" Hartek asked Lieutenant Ivanov.
"Sir, I am shocked and disappointed. Perhaps we should do something about it..." Ivanov responded.
As I watched the exchange, I could not help but agree with Calldia when he muttered "They may be masters of politics, intrigue, and military matters, but they will never be actors..."
"It's a shame that some of our men didn't get to flex their muscles on Home." Hartek mused, "Perhaps they'll enjoy some exercise now..."
The Command Staff were summoned to develop a strategy, which was effectively in two parts. We were to begin with a charm offensive on the Merchel population, appealing to those amongst it who felt stagnated by the slow processes which the Trading House seemed to rely on; we aimed at the younger more dynamic generation, painting a more prosperous picture for the future, inviting those with an interest to visit the Furnace of Redemption and spend time with selected representatives, in the same way that we had allowed the Travellers to visit. Once we had managed to separate the views of the Elders from the wider, younger, population Hartek would call, and attend, a diplomatic meeting on Orrema. He would publicly accuse the Merchel leadership of being responsible for the attack in the meeting, and respond to any perceived the threat there and then. I would be standing by on the teleportarium to transport troops to the designated location, as reinforcements to rapidly overwhelm any opposition. Additional troops from the infantry Cohorts would be ready to deploy from guncutters to seize key points within the Merchel cities.
As the planning session broke up, Orbest Dray was waiting for Hartek. "My Lord. The witch wishes to speak to you! He says it's urgent, and is waiting in the Dome."
I reflected that were I the Astropath, I would take exception to that name. And yes Calldia, I do know that the crew refer to the followers of the Holy Omnissiah as "Cog-boys", which is generally inaccurate when there are a large number of female adepts too. I am more offended by the inaccuracy than the name itself; after all, it is a great honour to be a follower of the Cog, is it not?
Astropath Golgotha was waiting as we entered the huge domed chamber, indeed, the door opened before we had chance to request entry. He was dressed in white robes with blue and black trimmings, and wore an Aquila amulet; his acolytes stood around him in a semi-circle, their heads bowed. There were trinkets, and parchments of Holy texts, some written in blood, attached to what appeared to be every surface, a mix of different incense burners in different areas of the chamber, and there were devotional phrases scrawled in High Gothic across the walls. One section was filled with plants, and seemed to create a pool of tranquillity, but the chamber as a whole seemed as strange to me as Hold 51 where the Orks had taken up residence.
"Master Golgotha!" Hartek's voice broke the silence. "You summoned us?"
The Astropath nodded. "Thank you for coming at such short notice, Lord Captain. I have an urgent message which I thought would be of interest..."
The door behind us closed with a soft thud.
"Do continue Master Golgotha!" Hartek prompted.
The Astropaths surrounding the Choir Master Telepahica began to chant quietly, and although there were definite words present in the chant, as the strange energies swirled around the room, for some reason I was unable to hear the words clearly enough to decipher them. Golgotha joined the chant, and then suddenly, one after another they entire Choir began to call out words; the overall effect was unnerving as the different voices rose and fell, and although spoken in a staccato sentence, the message just seemed to be a garbled collection of random words. After five minutes of the nonsense, the choir went quite, and puzzled I looked at Hartek, not quite understanding what I was supposed to make of what had happened; I certainly could not decipher anything of use from the noise we had just been subjected to.
Suddenly, my attention was drawn back to the Choir in the centre of the chamber as one of the Astropaths spoke a few Low Gothic words in a hollow disassociated voice; he fell silent and one of his colleagues spoke a few more words in the same manner, then fell silent, then another, and another, until eventually a full message was produced in a most unnerving form as each Astropath spoke and fell silent. Throughout the chorus of voices, the message flowed uninterrupted as though each mouth was controlled by a single, guiding, intelligence yet the voice that spoke it sprang from one random mouth to another, changing so regularly it was difficult to pinpoint which person spoke each section. The disorientating effect was still present in the recordings I have of the encounter, kept to make sure I understood what was happening, and I do not enjoy watching them back.
I have transcribed the message in its entirety here so that I do not have to refer back to the strange meeting again;
"Author; Governor, the Honourable Lord Belkan Kapak, 20th Heir of the Damaris throne, Lion of the Highland Fields. Encryption Level, None. Message Begins. To all available Imperial and affiliated Rogue Trader Vessels within range. Being a loyal system to his most Holy Majesty the Emperor of Man, Governor Kapak requests the aid and succour from Imperial assets against the Xenos-threat known as the Ork. Damaris is preparing to resist an impending invasion by the wretched greenskins who are massing outside of the system. We ask for any assistance in the form of ships, supplies, manpower, arms and expertise so that we may protect the Emperors worlds from the depredation of this horrid and unclean horde. Governor Kapak in his most magnanimous foresight promises to reward any such aid with the wealth of his planet. Know that Damaris is a rich planet and will reward her allies greatly. Message Ends."
"A call for help Rogue Trader." I stated, after a pause to steady myself. "And potential for profit, influence, and new allies..."
Hartek nodded. "Indeed!" He turned towards Golgotha; "Thank you Choir Master for your sterling service."
"My service is to the Throne, and the Dynasty. As always." Golgotha replied.
"As is all of ours." Hartek smiled, and turned to the rest of us. "To the chart room, then!"
Golgotha joined us, and relayed what he knew of Damaris as we headed to the Cartographer; both Hartek and I had some knowledge already, and between the three of us we managed to develop a reasonably detailed background. Damaris was a relatively rare case in the Koronus Expanse as it had aligned itself with the Imperial cause, and having succeeded, grown into a thriving world. While not officially part of the Imperium, the societal structures in place dove-tailed exactly with Imperial organisations, and the population considered themselves members of the Imperium of Man, a happy coincidence as the world was known to be rich in mineral resources, always in demand by the Imperial industry.
The strangest thing about the message that the choir Master had received was that although Damaris was known to be located within The Cauldron, some thirty days warp travel away and closer to the Foundling Worlds than to our base of operations in Footfall, the message seemed to originate much closer, perhaps only six days warp travel, to our current location within Winterscales Realm.
"Perhaps there is some sort of warp anomaly, or gate in that region..." Hartek mused, mostly to himself, I am sure. He turned to us and spoke more clearly; "We put our plans for Orrema into action tomorrow."
We prepared to move on towards Damaris, and in parallel ran our public relations campaign against the elders of the Merchel Trading House, which began to have an almost immediate impact as the younger generations responded to the dynamic message that House Dureen was giving. Part way through the week Hartek requested that the Merchel leaders and others of influence assemble in the Council auditorium as he wished to address them. They were eager to hear him speak, so much so that those not immediately invited clamoured to be included too.
The Rogue Trader and his retinue were greeted by the Merchel elders in a guarded manner, obviously not being unaware of the effect that House Dureen was having on their population, however, they were cordial and respectful. I kept an eye on the proceedings via my usual vid-link with Hartek. As well as the thirty elders, there were around a hundred others of position, and thirty armed guards, who did not appear to be overly alert.
1st Cohort were standing by in the teleportarium chamber, preparing to deploy in small teams, each with orders to detain everyone within the Council rooms, and only using lethal force if threatened. Viscount Spry had procured detailed plans of the Merchel chambers, and the troops had used these in rehearsal stage of the planning of the strike until they were thoroughly familiar with the target building.
Hartek stood to address the audience, and spoke in a clear, loud voice; "Gentlemen. Gentlemen! Pah! And ladies Of the Council of Elders."
Immediately there was a rustle of unease throughout the room.
"I came to your world as a traveller from the stars, seeking friendship, and a peaceful, mutually profitable co-existence." Hartek continued. "I extended unto you the hand of friendship of House Dureen. And you have slapped it away!"
The unease was replaced by shocked gasps, and startled looks.
"You have slapped it away in the most insidious and invidious manner! Perhaps not all of you are guilty, but there are those among you who will know of the attack on my person. You will know of it because you were responsible for it!"
Cries of denial rang out from the Elders, whilst others around the chamber had covered their mouths with their hands, unable to hide their surprise.
"I have incontrovertible proof..." Hartek slammed the book he had been holding onto the lectern he was standing behind, and the sharp crack cut through all the protests and denials that rang out from the Elders, forcing silence from the Merchellians.
"I have incontrovertible proof! Do you compound your calumny with further deception and denials? And now with a heavy heart, I find I am forced into action. I believe that this council no longer has the moral right to govern the honourable people of Merchel without stronger, more moral guidance..."
I triggered the Teleportarium the instant Hartek used the key phrase, and strike team after strike team were deployed to their target locations, each arriving precisely where intended.
As the troops began to materialise, the Rogue Trader Regent began to detail the full evidence to his shocked audience. One guard was foolish enough to attempt to intervene, raising his shotgun, and was quickly dispatched by the Dureen troops for his trouble, and others who attempted to offer resistance met the same fate. Unfortunately during the chaos that resulted several of the more quick-witted Elders managed to get clear and make good their escape, however, casualties outside of the security forces were remarkably light. As I had triggered the teleportarium, I had relayed the order for the other Cohorts to deploy from the already transiting guncutters and take their targets. They met no resistance, and in some cases were greeted with open arms.
Once the key areas were secured, the Rogue Trader Regent broadcast a message from the central vid-station, outlining what had happened, and why he had acted. He was apologetic to the people, and said he had only acted to prevent such an honourable and admirable populous being further led astray by weak and fearful leaders.
He signed off with "People of Merchel, we have tolerated it previously, but no more! Regrettably we have been forced into action by your corrupt, self-serving and insidious leadership, and have been forced to intervene and remove them. The people of Merchel can now know true freedom, true opportunity and true justice. My only wish is that I could have done this for you sooner."
It was quickly clear that he had hit the right tone; the population were shocked by, and condemned the actions that their erstwhile leaders had taken. They demanded the removal of a number of the societal structures the old regime had put in place, something Hartek was happy help them with, and they even turned over fugitives to Dureen troops. The people were happy to accept the protection of House Dureen at this critical time in their history, and even recognised Viscount Spry as the representative of the Dynasty.
The Elders that had been captured during the coup were transported to the Furnace of Redemption, and while I am not entirely certain what their fate was, I did notice that the Orks in Hold 51 seemed to gain some new human helpers.
The other City States were shocked by events in Merchel, however with the exception of the Coam Federation who had allied themselves to House Fel, they took great pains to make perfectly clear to the Rogue Trader Regent that they considered themselves allies and trading partners with him. Viscount Spry, as befitting his new role of Planetary Governor, was then tasked to bring all the factions of Orrema together, and ensure that they worked towards a single goal; the prosperity of Orrema, and by extension the prosperity Dureen Rogue Trader Dynasty.
As Hartek phrased it, "Viscount Spry, by the time we return here I expect the Coam Federation to have at the very least, disavowed their links to Fel, and the world to be united under our umbrella! I will leave 11th Cohort and a flight of guncutters to aid you in your task. Do not waste these resources."
Colonel Senf of the depleted 11th Cohort was ordered to screen and recruit from the Orremnians in our name, and Hartek left him one final instruction. "If Viscount Spry decides he longer wishes to abide with terms of our agreement, remove him."
The Colonel clicked his heels and acknowledged the instructions.
As we were making the final preparations to leave Orremnian space we received a message from the Travellers; over forty-thousand had decided to accept our offer to explore the stars. They were left with instructions to gather a thousand of their brightest and best to be assessed and screened by small cadres of specialists that we detached to the world, in preparation for our return from Damaris when we could begin to train them so that they could crew their own warp-capable vessels. Colonel Senf was given the overall command of the cadres we left behind, and left to make the arrangements for transporting such large numbers of people to the new training centres.
A week later we jumped into the warp from the edge of the Orremnian system and began our journey to answer the call for aid from Damaris.
Although not as smooth as some of our more recent journeys had been we initially travelled along known warp routes, taking us through other systems we had previously explored, and allowing us to check-in with our representatives via one form of communication or other at each stage. However, it was when we hit the unknown route towards the anomaly that things began to get strange.
I was focussed on the some maintenance sweeps when I noticed a sudden fluctuation in the Gellar field, which lasted for a fraction of a second, before settling out again. I immediately contacted the bridge, warning of a potential problem. All acknowledged my warning, except the Rogue Trader Regent, who had apparently retired to his quarters, and so I turned my attention to further diagnosing the problem, and attempted to detect the source of the fluctuation. As I was doing so the First Officer contacted via the vox warning me that the Choir Master had just staggered onto the bridge, looking drained and dishevelled, and issuing a dire warning. Ivanov replayed the automatic recording that the cogitators on the bridge make of any conversation, to allow me to judge the full importance for myself.
"There is a presence on the ship! I can feel it! It is as if a spark has just lit itself! It draws the attention of the powers that should not be named, we need to snuff it out before it brings doom on us!"
Golgotha demanded Ivanov accompany him to search for the "spark" of which he had spoken. I acknowledged the warning, and began to run a systems check, deck by deck, and level by level throughout the ship. I was quickly able to pinpoint some anomalous readings from the cold storage areas of the Furnace of Redemption, however all the surveillance devices I had in place there were simply transmitting white noise and static, and once again, the Gellar Field began to fluctuate.
I raised Ivanov on the vox, and directed him to this area, but he reported that the Astropath was already guiding them there, muttering of a "Strong presence". I diverted power from non-essential systems to the Gellar Field in an attempt to restabilise our protection from the fiends of the warp, and made fruitless attempts to reactivate my surveillance devices. Suddenly, the centre of disruption detected by both the Astropath and myself, seemed to focus on Hartek's quarters.
I have no record of what happened next, and was forced to piece together events from official verbal and written post-event reports, and some accidentally decrypted personal logs, to get an idea of events, however, as far as I can ascertain, what follows is an accurate summary of events.
Gothgotha staggered towards the door, supported by Ivanov, and between them they forced it open; they were greeted by the sight of the Rogue Trader Regent scrambling to his fleet, and reaching for his axe.
Ivanov, concern in his voice shouted "Trader! We have something from the warp aboard!" His last words almost drowned in a booming noise.
The room and corridor were suddenly swept with immensely strong winds and all three men were forced to hold on to firmly anchored fixtures, and then from nowhere sprang a rain of blood.
"I know!" Hartek shouted back, "It's taken on the form of Dureen!"
Ivanov had support the Astropath, who began to shout at Hartek; "Lord Captain! Close your mind! Your mind is a feast for the creatures of the warp!"
Hartek dragged his head to stare at Golgotha; "What are you saying, man? You're talking nonsense!"
"You are drawing them!" Golgotha's voice became more desperate. "Like blood would draw a shark!"
"Then let them come!" Hartek bellowed. "I'll face them down! I fear no ruinous power! Let them come!"
The pressure of the winds increased, and Golgotha shouted at Ivanov; "Steady me!"
The First Officer grasped the Astropath by his robes, and shouted at Hartek; "Look! It's Dureen. Behind you!"
Unable to resist, Hartek glanced over his shoulder, and there seeing nothing, turned back, starting to speak; "What do you mean? There's no-one th..." right into a blow from the Astropath's staff.
The Rogue Trader Regen was knocked off his feet and deposited in a heap on the floor, unconscious. Instantly, the winds died out, and the blood faded from reality. In my position in the engineerium, I saw the Gellar Field return to normal operation, and twenty-two point four seconds later, all my surveillance devices sprang back to life.
I was greeted with the sight of Hartek in a heap on the floor of his quarters, slowly attempting to get to his feet, a very confused look on his face. The room was silent, and I was about to check the audio feed when I noticed the Astropath examining himself closely, he glanced over to the slow moving form of the Rogue Trader Regent.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demaded. His words trailed away, and he glanced at the Rogue Trader Regent again, before speaking in a quieter voice; "What? What? Number One... I... What?"
"Choir Master? Are you hurt?" Ivanov asked
Golgotha looked utterly confused; "What? Choir Master?" He limped over to the mirror on the wall, put his hand to his face, and spoke again. "Oh boy!"
Ivanov rushed over to the struggling form of Hartek, still trying to get to his feet; "Rogue Trader?"
"Yes?" the Astropath answered from behind him, and then suddenly staggered again.
"Rogue Trader?" Ivanov asked again, looking from one figure to another, as confused now as the others in the room.
This time Hartek answered; "I think so!"
Later on, having reviewed the records, I knew that I had missed something when my surveillance devices were non-functional, and that the official reports were similarly incomplete, however when sorting through the ships cogitators and decrypting some operational files, I retreived, and accidentally included into the decryption routines, the Rogue Trader Regent's personal diary entry for this part of our travels. The section concerned with the events I have just reported makes very interesting reading so I have included it here to fill in the blanks;
+ + + There's some as cling to the notion that a man's dreams are the product of his own subconscious mind, an outpouring of his own guilty secrets and hidden fears.
Trollocks to that. I had a vision. Visions aren't just for poncey, skinny prophet types. That ex-Astartes who was running around with the Inquisitor, he had visions too and the Inquisitor seemed to take stock by 'em. Ain't no Astartes anyone could ever call poncey, 'cept possibly for them Dark Angels. Anyway, I reckon what I had was a vision of something that hasn't happened yet, that might not happen if we can stop it. Castagir changed what happened in his vision, so I figure we can do the same.
I was in my quarters, resting. Well I had eaten first, and drunk a little. It was the Hartek fruit, from the planet of the Dropas, that I find so refreshing. Nothing wrong with that. We were in the warp, and that little shit Ivanov was running the bridge so efficiently there was bugger-all to do until we get to our destination. So retired to my cabin, hit the "Do Not Disturb" button and had myself a slice or two.
At the start of the vision I was looking down into a cold room. So cold, I could feel it chilling my blood. I looked down and into the room. It looked like a Freezarium, the walls lined with foodstuffs preserved for a long journey. There was a figure in the room, walking towards the door, as if to leave. There were wisps of smoke coming off him. Maybe steam, but I swear I could smell the brimstone from my disembodied position. I couldn't see his face at first, but then he stopped and slowly turned around. He looked towards me as if he could see me, and smiled evilly.
"No!" I found myself screaming. "You're dead!" The obviously dead figure of Rico Dureen grinned wider and I could see the sharp points of his elongated teeth and the demonic glow around his eyes. His ice-cold frozen corpse was now almost glowing with infernal energy. He nodded towards me, as if acknowledging my ethereal presence.
"No! Your time has gone. This is my ship now! My Dynasty! I won't let you take it away from me!" In response he simply turned away and reached out to touch the door. Where he touched by the lock, the metal started to glow red, then white hot. Molten metal started to puddle on the floor as he burned his way out of his icy prison.
"No!" I cried once more. "Go back!" But then it was too late, as the possessed Dureen lashed out with a foot and smashed the door open before striding out into the ship to wreak his revenge.
Then suddenly I was overcome with dizziness, and found myself falling, and awoke momentarily to find myself crumpled naked on the deck-plates in my cabin, a goblet half clutched in my left hand, its contents spilled out over the floor. I tried vainly to drag myself to my feet, but wave after wave of dizziness swept over me. Now I've always been able to hold my drink, drugs or whatever else is available. I remember there was this one time on Pylos with the old 48th where I got meself into a drinking contest with an Ogryn Sergeant... but that's another story. Anyway no amount of wine or Hartek fruit had ever effected me like that, and I wondered briefly if Ivanov had made his move at last by poisoning my meal.
It was then that I detected a foul odour, the likes of which I couldn't possibly begin to describe, but so strong and pungent that it made my eyes water. I blinked to clear my vision, then all of a sudden I had the feeling of falling again and on opening my eyes I found myself looking down upon a dusty desert plain, flanked on all sides by mountains. Moments later I was standing on the ground looking up at the sky, where a bright ruddy star shone down and a vague, greeny-blue glowing mass, scattered across the breadth of the heavens, visible even in the daylight.
Looking across the plain, I saw several plumes of dust being thrown up, as if by some fast moving vehicles. I ran towards them, stumbling down the loose sand of a dune, until I could get a better view of them. As they grew closer, I could make out the forms of three chopper bikes, speeding across the dusty landscape, their course parallel to my current position. Thinking that they were scouts from the 7th Cohort sent out to rescue me, I let out a great shout and waved my hands in the air to attract their attention.
They didn't seem to notice me, but continued on their course weaving through the broken and barren terrain. I ran after them, somehow able to keep pace and even gain on them, and as I grew closer, I realised that these were not the Malfian humans of the 7th, but were in fact of my own people. Squats! Their short, rotund bodies and extensive beards could be nothing but Homo-Sapiens Rotundus, the abhumans of my race long thought lost to the depredations of the Tyranids. Somehow they had survived the apocalypse and made their home on this dusty, barren world.
"Stop!" I cried. "I'm one of you." But still they didn't notice me, continuing on their path which I now saw led them towards a huge rock face that had been carved out into the form of a mighty fortress.
Suddenly the skies darkened and a shadow was cast over the riders. I looked up to see at least half a dozen ships appearing in the sky overhead. Their vast forms were corrupted and distorted with spikes and fins and other features that I knew marked these vessels as those in the service of the Powers That Be Not Named, like the cruiser we had faced in the Sapphirus system. Again I cried out to my brothers.
"No! Come back! Don't go there, it's not safe!" But again they failed to heed my warning, but seeing the Chaos ships arriving overhead, spread out slightly and gunned their machines into even greater speed. I tried to run after them, but tripped on a stone and fell, skidding into the dust and dirt. Pulling myself up to my knees I cried out once more in a weakened and croaking voice. "Come back."
There was a flash and a crack of thunder, and a searing white bolt of energy pierced the sky, scattering clouds and heading straight for the rocky fortress. It struck, and scoured the very bones of the world, eliminating all trace of the habitation that had been there moments before. A vast cloud of dust and debris was picked up and hurled outwards from the blast site. The three riders slammed their vehicles into sliding brakes, but before they had time to flee the blast-wave swept over them and they were obliterated. Moments later the blast reached my position and I felt myself lifted bodily into the air and hurled several meters across the desert, only to slam into the cold, hard deck-plates back in my cabin aboard the Furnace of Redemption.
I hauled myself to my feet, and moments later the door to my cabin opened and there was Lieutenant Ivanov, weapon in hand. Thinking that he had made his move and come to finish me off in my poison-weakened state, I reached for my battle-axe. No-one was going to give this squat the bloody Emperor's Peace without losing a few extremities first, but then he spoke.
"Trader! We have something from the Warp aboard."
At these words there was a mighty boom and a blast of force ripped through the room. I barely managed to keep my feet and saw that Ivanov was doing the same, while struggling to keep hold of the Choir-Master who had apparently accompanied him. A mighty howling wind whipped up through the cabin, and as if from no-where, the room was suddenly awash with a rain of blood.
Something told me Ivanov might be right in his assessment.
"I know." I shouted over the howling wind. "It's taken on the form of Dureen." Ivanov seemed momentarily baffled by the reference to my predecessor, but then he'd only had the official story about Dureen deserting his duties. He couldn't know that Rico Dureen's corpse was in fact hidden in a Freezarium aboard the Furnace of Redemption and now, as I sincerely believed, possessed by a warp demon that threatened the very safety of the ship.
Choir-Master Golgotha forced his frail body into the cabin, gripping tightly on the doorframe to secure himself against the storm. "Lord Captain!" he shouted, "Close your mind. Your mind is a feast for the creatures of the warp!" Now there have been many things said regarding my intellect over the years, but it has never been described as "a feast".
"What are you saying, man?" I shouted. "You're talking nonsense!"
"You are drawing them. Like blood would draw a shark."
"Then let them come!" I cried, hefting my battleaxe. "I'll face them all down." The battle-rage was upon me now, and the learned sophistication of the Trader's rank fell away and I was who I had always been. Kilgrim Hartek. Warrior. "I fear no ruinous power! Let Them Come!" At this point I was ready to take on whatever the demons of the warp could throw at me, but was unready for the machinations of the trickster Ivanov who pointed behind me.
"Look! It's Dureen. Behind you!" Having already been transported to a distant desert world on this day, I was ready to believe anything could happen. I span ready to do battle with my demon-infected predecessor, only to see a blank wall covered in blood. My wits slowed by a combination of the Hartek juice, the infernal storm and what had been so far shaping up into a really crappy day, it took me a moment to register that there was no-one there, before I turned back.
"What do you mean? There's no-one th..." And that was when the Astropath's staff struck me in the face and everything went black.
I opened my eyes to find myself already standing unsteadily, being held upright by Lieutenant Ivanov.
"What is the meaning of this?" I shouted, then turned to look Ivanov in the eyes.
Without looking up.
Something was very wrong. My cabin was smaller than before, the ceiling lower and more claustrophobic. All traces of the storm had vanished, but as I moved to look around I felt the constant jabbing of pain from all my joints. Looking down, at the end of long spindly legs covered in robes, I saw my feet.
As a new wave of dizziness hit, I leaned on my staff for support.
"What?" I managed. Then again. "What?" Looking around the cabin, I saw a short, rotund and bearded figure lying crumpled and naked in the corner. My mind clawed desperately to make sense of the scene "Number One.... I .... What?" Ivanov was still at my side.
"Choir-Master? Are you hurt?" he asked.
"What? Choir-Master?" I could scarcely make sense of what was happening. I hobbled across the cabin to a mirror, and there looking back at me was the wizened form of Choir-Master Golgotha. I bent slightly, and put a hand to the wrinkled face I now wore. Looking back at me with empty, burned out eye sockets, I heard the Astropath speak in my voice "Oh boy." I was dimly aware of Ivanov moving to help my former body to its feet.
"Rogue Trader?" he asked.
"Yes." I replied by instinct. Ivanov seemed momentarily confused, but then moments later there was a flash of intense pain and I found myself back in my own body.
"Rogue Trader?" he asked again, looking from me to the body of the Astropath I had briefly occupied.
"I think so." I replied, though it was only some time later that I was able to convince myself of this.
So that's what happened, my vision of a possessed Dureen, the Squat colony on a world blasted by Chaos. I can only hope that this was a vision of things yet to come, that by bold action we may yet avert the colony's destruction and save my people. The rest of the crew can't know that this is what drives me, they wouldn't understand. Or worse, might suspect I am possessed by the ruinous powers myself. We're already committed to the relief of Damaris, but once our business there is concluded I intend to take the Furnace there with such forces as I can muster to try to save my brothers. I have consulted Commander Jace our Carto-Artifex and between us have identified a likely candidate for this system in Winterscale's Realm, with an orange sun in the shadow of a mighty nebula. I can only hope we arrive in time.
Personal log entry end. Save and encrypt. Keyphrase: "Blessed is he who in the name of the Emperor shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brothers' keeper and the finder of lost children." + + +
+ + + Addendum: Not enough. Can't risk it. The buggers will think I've lost me wits. Erase last entry, double security protocol then mark storage media for destruction and replacement. Authorisation Hartek-One. I'm sorry, my friend Nicander, but this is one entry I cannot let even you, my dearest friend, just "stumble across" as you do. Your boundless curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied and be replaced with obedience to the Trader's Throne. For am I not my brothers' keeper? + + +
Kilgrim was right, with that level of encryption, followed by a deletion, it would have been more work and time than it was worth, however, it is rare that it is the file structure in the cogitators themselves I search, it is the data traps in the buffers. No-one ever thinks to purge them.
For the record, I do not think he has lost his wits; when you are not seen as exactly normal by those around you, I understand the drive to discover those that are your kin. I am considered an anomaly even by others within the Adeptus Mechanicus, and I am ninety seven point three percent certain that I was attached to this Dynasty as a form of exile. While I would not say I am "obedient" to the Trader's Throne, I am certainly loyal to my friend who occupies it. I find it strange to use that word again; since the death of Yorrick, himself a victim of the servants of the ruinous powers, I have not considered any other a friend, and I will keep his secret; even he will never know that I know.
++ End of record ++
We will wait... but if you tarry too much, I shall release the hounds of hell on you!
Administrum shall ask you to give us a complete inventory of your crew, holds and maybe a dip in your recreation area... you are bound to have brought back a few interesting "specimen" on that journey of yours!
Nice read as always keep hem coming... PPLLLEEEEAAASSEEEE..... master
Suffer not the rule Lawyers just enjoy your self!!! - Slaneesh Acolyte
I will infect you with my views!!! - Nurgle Rule Lawyer
Oups... I must have read it wrong, was it not like that before? Anyway doesn't mean all those game you lost are now forfeeted... - Tzench Liar
BECAUSE IT CAN'T HAPPEN!!!!!! The book says so!!! I hate you all, I quit this shit. - Khorne rule gardian and whinner!
The hounds finally caught up with me so below is the next installment
SPOLIER WARNING - We are now playing through the Frozen Reaches so dont read on if you dont want to know what happens.
++ Excerpt taken from the personal record of Enginseer Prime Nicander Hak ++
++ LOCATION: THE WARP, EN ROUTE FROM ORREMA TO THE DETECTED WARP ANOMALY, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
Hartek, obviously still shaken by his experiences called for his personal guard, and then ordered a complete search of the Furnace of Redemption to search for the "Warp-entity that was impersonating the old Rogue Trader". I had my suspicions that Hartek himself would search the freezarium chamber where we had left Dureen's remains in storage, as it did seem to match the description of the hold in the vision he wrote about in his diary.
The Choir Master had obviously been harder hit by the strange events, and was collapsed in the corner of Hartek's state-room, repeating prayers in a frantic, mumbling voice, seemingly oblivious to the people around him. Ivanov attempted to engage with him, but receiving no response from the catatonic man, arranged for a pair of the Astropathic Acolytes to escort him back to his Choir in the hope that they could do something for him.
I was correct in my assessment of the Rogue Trader Regent's priorities; leaving the First Officer to arrange the ship-wide search he took four of his Housecarls into the freezarium. It was immediately obvious that his vision was more than just a wild imagination, as the chamber was precisely as Hartek had seen it, complete with melted lock and blackened footprints. As soon as Hartek had made his discovery, he contacted the command staff to raise the alert level warning that the Dureen impersonator could be anywhere. Remembering the interference that the false Rogue Trader had caused on my monitoring network, I scanned all those I had in place around the ship, and was able to discover that a trail of devices leading towards the lower holds of the ship had been blinded for a few minutes before returning to nominal operation. Unfortunately, my devices were far sparser in this area, as there was nothing of critical import located here, so all I was able to do was pass on the direction of travel, and rough location to the Rogue Trader Regent. Still, as Calldia reminded me, it was far more information he had previously had. I did caution however, that the interference had occurred almost twenty standard minutes previously, a timescale that coincided with Hartek and the Astropath's bizarre experience, and so the trail may not be the most accurate. As a compromise I dispatched a team of my servo-skulls to aid Hartek by scouting ahead of his team; one equipped with an auspex, one a vid- and pict-capture device, and the third armed with a las-pistol to provide limited protection, and they were received gratefully.
The search was fruitless, so the Rogue Trader Regent tasked the Chief Bosun. Johannes Vitteberg, with dispatching teams on regular patrols to continue it; Vitteberg contacted the Twist Catcher, Carl Jherek as he was more familiar with these less travelled paths in the holds, and an efficient search plan was devised.
I turned my attention to attempting to aid the Choir Master, and ordered him transferred to the Apothecarium so his condition could be properly monitored. It was clear that the man was not physically damaged, but that his problems lay within his mind, so I suggested that the members of his choir should take turns sitting with him in an attempt to reach him, and draw him from his shell, which they agreed to do. I would continue to monitor the situation and spend whatever time I could to try to find any other ways to help him, as until I did I knew that the Astropathic Choir would be less effective without their Master.
++ LOCATION: WARP ANOMALY SPACE, WINTERSCALES REALM ++
We dropped out of the Warp into the location that had been charted as the probable location of the warp anomaly from which the message from Damaris had originated, and initially there was nothing to be seen. However, as the auspex came online and as the holo-tank projected the image of the area we had arrived in a large rift was visible. It seemed to be slowly shifting, and a yellow light was emanating from it, however, there was nothing tangible, nothing solid to detect; this was definitely a construct of the immaterium. I reported the puzzling findings to Hartek, who seemed equally perplexed, however we were interrupted by our Warp Guide, another Navigator of the Proscesu clan.
"Although I have never encountered phenomena like this before, I have heard rumours, and know the theories behind them. The Enginseer is correct; this is a product of the warp itself, and my eye shows me that this is a clear path into the immaterium. It's difficult to explain to those that do not travelled the ways of the warp itself, but imagine a river, and imagine that at the side of a river, the water pools and eddies. This is one such area where the force is so great that the eddies cannot escape, and the excess just bleeds away into real space. This one seems to contain a fairly powerful and strong current..."
Hartek nodded. "What you are saying, Navigator, is this might be a way to travel through the warp itself, without using the normal method? It might lead us to our destination more quickly?"
"That is a good possibility!" The Navigator responded. "There is a good chance that whoever sent the message is on the other side of this rift... We could jump into the warp here, but we must be careful, it would be like leaping into a fast flowing river."
"I like the fast flowing part..." the Rogue Trader Regent mused. "Warp Guide Proscesu, let us make the jump. Mister Ivanov, take the helm, let us try to catch this fast flowing river. Try not to break the ship gentlemen."
If only things were so simple, eh, Calldia?
The ship shook and shuddered, and I could detect the hull twisting, and yet not twisting, depending on which sensors I looked at, and then there was a ringing, booming noise, and the Warpsbane Hull activated, drawing far more energy than normal, any crew not securely fastened into their acceleration couches were thrown around, and I later heard of several broken bones amongst the more careless. This was by far the worst warp transition I had ever experienced, but the ship held up well, although I knew that she was close to her stress tolerances. Suddenly the damage control alarms sounded, and my sensors reported a fire in the auspex arrays, and on the bridge the Navigator gasped, a screamed "Take us out of the warp - now!"
Ivanov instantly reacted, and with a cry of "Brace for impact!" the Furnace of Redemption was flung into normal space, coming to an almost dead stop.
"I saw the warp storm at the centre of the Cauldron!" a shocked Navigator reported, "It would've been the end of us all!"
According to my chrono just fifty-seven point three seconds had passed since we entered the rift. I unstrapped myself and made towards the affected area as quickly as I could as I heard the ship wide vox calling for the relevant damage control teams to report to their stations. I detached teams to the areas I knew to be most vital, co-ordinating the efforts through the bridge, and the well drilled teams commanded by Ensign Goodwin were extremely effective in fighting the fire, and it was quickly extinguished. Unfortunately, despite the rapid response, almost one thousand two hundred and fifty souls were dispatched to sit alongside the Omnissiah, but it could have been far, far worse.
It took me several long hours before I was able to get a semblance of functionality from the auger array and allow us to see enough to calculate our location, and continue the journey. Shockingly, we were only a short warp hop from the Damaris System, in terms of time, we were less than two hours away; a warp journey of over thirty standard days had been completed in less than a minute, real-time!
We finished our jump to the system, and the journey towards the Damaris system core took a week, which I and my teams spent repairing the damage the best we could, and although we were able to restore the majority of the functionality, we would require an additional day in a properly equipped repair bay to complete them properly.
++ LOCATION: DAMARIS, THE FORSELLIS SYSTEM, THE CAULDRON ++
The system was centred around a brilliant blue giant, and they system was ringed by a treacherous ice field held in place by a vicious gravity well, and known locally as the Frozen Reaches. We ran a detailed survey scan of the system, having learned that the more we knew of a battleground, and we were in little doubt that Damaris would become a battleground, the better chance we had of prevailing. Closest to the star were a group of three small, rocky, blasted and lifeless and hostile planetoids that the cogitators had labelled as "The Burning Ones", individually named Ingus, Aestus, and Aduro. In addition, there was another stellar body; Skadi, a massive gas planet, which although surveyed was hidden within the ice field, and generally seen as too dangerous to approach.
Damaris itself fell well within the temperate zone, halfway between the blue star, and the ice field, and was of medium size, covered with small but deep seas, low mountain ranges and rolling hills. It was colder than optimum, so had larger than average ice-caps, but the equatorial regions were ideal for farming. As they paid tithes to the Imperium received a number of services not normally offered to non-Imperial worlds, including an Imperial Navy presence. The local setup mirrored that of a standard Imperial planet, and looking at the organisations outlined in the ships cogitators, it was clear that Damaris would have not been out of place in the Calixis Sector; it was ruled by a nobility formed from trading families, with the head of the most powerful family taking on the role of Governor. The planet had an overall population of three billion, and the infrastructure was remarkable modern and advanced, suggesting a level of wealth present in the society, although there was only really one city of note, the capital, Damaris City, known simply as "The City" or "The Capital", which was home to a third of the planetary population. There was little standard, or warp radiation present, meaning that both mutations and psykers were rare.
Industry consisted of extensive mining and agriculture, and there was also a shipyard building in-system vessels based at a mined out and significantly fortified moon, known as The Bulwark which also served as a military base. The world was young; less than a millennia old, and extremely successful, meaning that the promises of profit made in the message calling for help was certainly not inaccurate.
Damaris had been known as a peaceful world, with a gentle pace of life and a good standard of living, however it appeared that the greenskins were aiming to put an end to this.
The Furnace of Redemption travelled towards Damaris, and our now mostly repaired auger arrays picked up a number of vessels in orbit around the world. We announced our presence and were given approach vectors allowing us to close to the immense, and heavily armed Bulwark. The most striking of the ships we detected was a dangerous looking Imperial Navy Dauntless Class Light Cruiser that our cogitators announced was the named the Aegis. Next to be identified was a ship designated The Ordained Destiny, a heavily modified Luna Class Cruiser, apparently stripped of some of its more standard battle orientated components, converting it into a gaudily decorated vessel with a focus on trade and exploration. Unsurprisingly the ship was identified as belonging to a Rogue Trader although we were unable to identify its' livery. The Starweaver, a modified Tempest Class Strike Frigate was the next ship that our cogitators were able to identify, captained by Lady Elizabeth Orleans, another Rogue Trader with a reputation for being straight talking and no-nonsense. Clearly, we were not the only ones to respond to the call for help (and the promised rich reward). Additionally, we were able to pick up some in-system vessels, roughly Raider or Destroyer class in size; these were obviously the class of ship constructed by the Damaris shipyard for anti-piracy patrols.
One thing that I noticed as we closed on Damaris was that the strategic disposition of the vessels was very illogical, and certainly inefficient. Either they were defending things that we were unaware of, or there was an unknown and unhelpful dynamic present amongst the defenders. I relayed this information to the Rogue Trader Regent, and the First Officer, who after closer examination agreed with my assessment; indeed, when pressed by Hartek, the auger crews revealed that there were three different vox-nets in use, and no single common frequency. This would obviously bear further investigation...
"Incoming message, Sir!" Called the duty vox-operator. "We're being hailed by the planet. It's a message from the Sphinx Landing Star Port, asking us to state our business!"
At this point I considered that a strange question, after all it was them that had called for our aid! Calldia muttered his agreement...
The transmission was routed through to our holo-tank, and we were treated to a view of a military man of late middle age, thin, but tough looking, sitting in a non-descript office.
"Greetings, and welcome to Damaris. I am the Commanding Officer of the port landing facilities. Please state the purpose of your presence here." His no-nonsense words matched his appearance.
"This is the free trade ship the Furnace of Redemption of House Dureen, and I am Rogue Trader Regent Hartek, bonded Warmaster and leader of the house. We have come because we received a call for help from you."
The image in the holo-tank nodded, and a small smile briefly flashed across his features. "Excellent news. We were hoping that was the case. I will transfer the docking codes, and make the arrangements for you to meet the Governor yourself. Please join us at your earliest convenience. Out."
The transmission was ended, and within a few seconds we had received the promised data.
The Rogue Trader Regent, Ivanov, and myself, protected by a number of the Hartek's Housecarls, and the 1st Cohort descended to the Sphinx Spaceport in a flight of guncutters, and the show of force was patently unexpected, as the Spaceport needed to clear more space for us. A well dressed Adept was waiting for us with an official looking groundcar, and after some moments of confusion when it was clear that he was only expecting to transfer a small group to meet the Governor, we selected four of the best 1st Cohort troopers to accompany us - the power armoured Housecarls would not fit in the vehicle!
Adept Jorun Alexander, as the man introduced himself, was Aide to the Governor and our official liaison for the length of our stay, and although Hartek initially seemed to find him a little too familiar, as we journeyed in the car to the Governors Palace where we were expected to join a meeting, we spoke to the man, who provided as much information as he could, and we found ourselves warming to him.
Initially, Alexander himself looked a little embarrassed, before speaking to us in a slightly hurried manner; "On behalf of myself, and my family I would like to thank you for coming to our world to aid us. If there's anything I can do for you during your time here, you simply need to ask."
I, for one, appreciated the sentiments and told him so. I went on to ask about the tensions that seemed evident in the deployment of the ships in orbit. The Adept sighed, an paused before telling us that we were correct in our assumptions that there were some tensions between our soon to be allies, although he was not able to inform us of the cause of those tensions, other than there were differences of opinions within the Defence Council, with regard to the best way to proceed. I was starting to develop a bad feeling about what we were heading into, and fell back into silence.
At this point Hartek spoke up. "The Ork threat. How did you learn of it, and how soon is the attack expected?"
"The Aegis discovered the Orks on a routine patrol, and we have ascertained that the greenskins are moving on us from a neighbouring system; our best estimates tell us that we have between one and two standard weeks before they attack." Alexander told us, "They are led by a brute who calls himself Warlord Snotgritz. Beyond that I know little, although I expect that Captain Locke and the council will be able to tell you more."
Digesting the new data, we filled the rest of the journey with small talk, learning as much as we could of the world, effectively confirming everything the ship-board cogitators had told us.
The Governors Palace was situated in the centre of the city, and was a magnificent example of Imperial Gothic design, with grand marble statues, columns, and towers liberally included in the design. Adept Alexander escorted us into the interior of the building, which was if anything, more impressively appointed with thick, plush carpets, and differing Imperial styles obvious in each of the chambers, ostentatious decorations in the form of wall hangings and murals were everywhere as were bronze busts and hololiths. Everything about the building screamed wealth and Imperial allegiance.
Eventually we arrived at some large, heavy wooden doors flanked by two Palace Guards, as heavy as the doors were, we could clearly hear raised voices from beyond them, and credit to the guards, the seemed to be studiously ignoring the shouted discussions from within.
An embarrassed Adept Alexander spoke to us after a brief conversation with one of the guards; "I'm afraid my Lords that the Council was going to await for your arrival. A can only apologise for this insult, it is unacceptable for them meet without waiting. It is a terrible breach of protocol..."
Hartek nodded, "Don't worry about it, my good man; it's not your fault!" And suddenly, before anyone could move, he threw the doors open and strode through.
Those of us who knew the Rogue Trader Regent struggled to hide our smiles, and followed him, leaving the Dureen troops outside with the Palace Guards who looked unsure, and then just held their position. A shocked looking Adept raced after us, somehow managing to get in front of us, breathlessly, and rapidly, introducing us to those assembled within.
Within the room, the War Council were assembled, and leaning over a iron topped hololithic table, depicting the world and the system, shouting at each other were an Imperial Navy captain, who was introduced to us as Sylvia Locke, and a man dressed in a similar manner to an Imperial Guard General, who we discovered was the commander of the Damaris ground forces, General Reme Dante. Seated at the far end of the table, his head in his hands was the Governor, Belkan Kapak, and finally, there were two Rogue Traders, Lady Elizabeth Orleans, and Lord Jeremiah Blitz; Blitz seemed to take his lead from Lady Orleans.
Hartek hung his coat over a handy servo-skull hovering nearby, and spoke; "Right. We're here now! Let's get these Orks bloody well seen to! Anyone got a plan?"
The Governor stood, and spoke in High Gothic, a pointless language that I have never bothered to learn, and Hartek replied in the same flowery tongue, I used the time to calculate the odds we had of getting the disparate groups evident in the chamber to work together. Calldia agreed that they were not good. Eventually, our glorious leaders seemed to remember that there were others around them who had not wasted their time learning non-functional languages, and reverted to the more workmanlike Low Gothic so we could all understand.
We were warmly greeted by the Governor, and treated to a sardonic and wry smile by Lady Orleans, while the Naval Captain and Damarian General spared us non-committal glances and terse words, although I suspect this was more due to the shouted argument they had been having when we arrived.
Suddenly Locke and Dante suddenly resumed their argument, which seemed to centre on the defensive strategy, and the differences the two had, with the General implying that Locke did not really care about Damaris. I noticed the others around the table roll their eyes, and surmised that this was an argument that was not new...
Bored, I spoke. "While you are... discussing... your plan, it would be more efficient and helpful if someone would outline it for us, to see whether we could add anything value. It would be illogical for us to make a judgement on something we have no knowledge of."
Those around the table looked at each other, but the next voice to be heard was Hartek's. "Aye. Both of your plans could be bollocks!"
There was a pause, and plans were summarised, with Locke's understandably focussing on an in depth defences from space, while the General believed that resources should be focussed and the Orks defeated in a series of set piece battles. Logically, I could see no reason why both plans could not be combined; using the combined forces of the ships present to destroy the Ork Naval forces, and then trigger the General's plan to destroy any survivors who actually made planet fall. It struck me that the disagreement went beyond simple strategy and that there were deeper differences.
Governor Kapak suddenly slapped the table with the palm of his hand, and called an end to the meeting, stating that the Council would reconvene the following day. As the others filed from the chamber, we waited, as Kilgrim wanted a word with Kapak, who, it appeared also wished to speak with us, so we followed him to his private chambers, adjacent to the hall. Before the conversation began, the Governor took a small silver pipe and inhaled from it, visibly relaxing; fortunately, I do not need to breathe, but I was able to scan the composition of the smoke and identify it as Obscura. To add further complication to an already delicate situation, it seemed that the Governor was an addict.
The conversation was far less formal than the previous one, but in essence, to his relief, we promised complete support to the Governor and Damaris. He immediately put all the facilities of Damaris at our disposal so I arranged for the final repairs required by the Furnace of Redemption to be made at the Bulwark. The Governor admitted to a feeling of wariness bordering on anger with regard to the way the supposed allies were behaving, and their refusal to co-operate, but seemed somewhat at a loss at how to deal with it. He then invited us to a Gala Banquet which would be attended by the high ranking members of all Adepta, Guilds, and other organisations of the world, and, more importantly, every member of the Defence Council, giving us a chance to speak in less fraught circumstances. Finally, we were invited to stay in rooms allocated for us within the Governors Palace itself to enable us to liaise more effectively with the individual factions.
Over the next two days we all busied ourselves with our individual tasks, and soon the Furnace of Redemption was back to her full capabilities, with all the damage repaired, and the crew losses replaced. Intelligence summaries outlining the personalities and capabilities of the different factions were prepared and absorbed, and the evening of the Gala was quickly upon us. I dug out my formal, rust-red, Adeptus Mechanicus robes, and had a junior Tech-Priest shine up my Omnissian axe so that it would look impressive for the fleshbags, and with a number of my servo-skulls swarming around me, joined the others on the planet surface for the banquet.
We were announced into the ballroom, and it was immediately obvious that the Governor had not skimped on the costs of the banquet; a sumptuous feast was in evidence, obviously wasted on me, and gilded servitors moved amongst the guests dispensing drinks and delicacies. Music drifted through the chamber, and groups of people clustered whispering intrigues, and all the time Alexander pointed out who was who in the chamber. In one corner I spotted a Tech-Priest sitting on his own.
Following protocol, we approached the Governor to introduce ourselves formally; it was soon clear that he had been using Obscura again, as he had a faintly glazed look about his eyes. Hartek and Kapak exchanged pleasantries, each indulging themselves with the fine fare on offer, Ivanov and I dropped back, keeping others from earshot, leaving them to converse in private. I am fairly sure this involved the passing of the Obscura pipe.
Hartek turned back to the ballroom, and raised his glass, and voice in a toast; "To the Emperor! To Damaris! And to friendship!"
It was interesting to see that some of the people seemed reluctant to join the toast, clearly some were more loyal to the Imperium than others, noticeably the General, the leader of the Defence Flotilla, Commander Reynolds, and Lady Orleans.
Hartek smiled at all around him, nodded to Governor Kapak, and headed over to Lady Orleans. "I rather though that would play better than "For great profit and getting our worthless skins off this rock intact!", don't you think?"
She smiled, "Well, profit's what we're in it for, isn't it? Let's not beat around the bush!"
"It is a position I have found myself becoming accustomed to..." Hartek agreed.
Lady Orleans smiled again. '"I too have found myself in a similar situation!"
They continued to talk, and Hartek found that she was open and honest with him; she had numerous trade deals in place, and felt a kinship with the place. She was essentially protecting her investment, and if that coincided with giving the world greater independence from the Imperium, so much the better. It appeared that both Rogue Traders had much in common, and Hartek discovered that she had no love for the Imperium because she held the Administratum responsible for the death of her father as they got him involved in a disastrous, and poorly planned campaign against heretics. Hartek sympathised, and repeated the promise that he had made the Governor, that he was here for the long haul, and did not see himself in conflict with her after the Orks were defeated, in fact he would welcome co-operation between the Orleans and Dureen houses. She thanked him for his candour, and when asked about her ally, Rogue Trader Blitz, she explained that she and Jeremiah Blitz's business interests coincided, and although he was currently down on his luck, brash, and full of stories, some of which may even be true, she knew him to be loyal and would stay so, at least until he repaid his creditors. He was no coward and had kept himself alive through many difficult situations. Hartek and Orleans parted as firm allies, obviously seeing each other as kindred spirits, with Lady Orleans promising her own and Blitz's forces in support of House Dureen.
During the conversation, I had moved to interface with the Tech-Priest, who Alexander had informed we was named Hadron Shard. I displayed my neuro-sphere details with Shard, and read his, and we spoke in the language of the Mechanicus. It appeared he was at the Gala as a matter of diplomacy, and was not really interested in anything else, and though aware of the Ork threat did not seem to care about it as he felt that his research was too important to interrupt. Indeed when we first conversed he had been running through some calculations regarding plasma drives; I had gained his attention by inserting the information I had learned about the advanced drives that the Leleians produced. I was invited to visit him at the Forge he commanded on the outskirts of the city, and promised to do so, to further continue the information sharing with regard to the new plasma drives. The technical conversation took much of our time, but I steered the conversation back to the Ork threat, and managed to secure his support, and those of his Skitarii, under the command of House Dureen in the upcoming conflict. Tribune Alpha-Quad-One-Alpha was the Skitarii Command node, and Shard informed me that he would instruct him to await our contact. He then announced that he had spent two-standard hours at the Gala, and that would meet the parameters as the minimum allotted time to be classed as both polite and diplomatic, and left for the Forge. I wished that I could have accompanied him; it was refreshing to converse with a senior Tech-Priest again.
Ivanov had approached Captain Locke, who was accompanied by her Executive Officer, Lieutenant Onos Kass, and although distant and cold, after the introductions had been made she was happy to speak to him, recognising his Naval background. He attempted to persuade her of his qualifications by outlining some plans he had generated for the defence of the system, however, Locke, displaying her undoubted competence and ability was able to pick them apart, leaving Ivanov feeling as though he was in one of his training evolutions, back at the Academy. She did however soften the blow by building an alternative plan phase by phase using Ivanov's ideas as a basis, and his willingness to listen and ability to absorb the new information seemed to make an impression with the Captain. Ivanov then called Hartek over and introduced him to Locke, and talked him through the redesigned Naval plan that Locke had suggested. The Rouge Trader Regent then pledged the Furnace of Redemption to any fleet commanded by Locke, and explained that he had secured agreement from Lady Orleans for her ship, the Starweaver and Jeremiah Blitz's Ordained Destiny to be used in the same way. Captain Locke nodded her thanks, but still seemed somewhat wary of the approach that was being made. Hartek politely thanked her for her time, and arranged a meet in a more professional environment at a later date.
Hartek and Ivanov then approached General Dante and Commander Reynolds, and paid their respects in an attempted to break down some of the barriers that were obviously there, and forge a working relationship. Hartek began to speak about tactics for fighting Orks. Hartek made the offer of the House Dureen Cohorts to supplement the Damaris Defence Forces, which the General seemed to appreciate. Hartek suggested some joint training exercises so that the units could get used to fighting alongside each other, and foster an esprit de corps, and the General seemed to genuinely appreciate the offer. He opened up slightly after the training was agreed, and revealed that he thought that Captain Locke was an incompetent who did not have the best interests of Damaris at heart, he also hinted that similarly, he was not entirely convinced by the competency of the Governor, which probably explained the reluctance to respond to Hartek's toast earlier in the evening, and the suddenly reminded animosity seemed to carry over into the current conversation.
It was clear that we would have to work hard to build some bridges.
Hartek took his leave from the General, and moved to speak to the Astropath, who introduced himself as Kevil Stasys. Hartek asked for a private word, and they moved into the gardens to talk. Strangely, Hartek reported afterwards that he could hear the Astropath's words in his head without the man speaking.
"My Choir-Master recently saved me during an encounter in the warp, but paid a heavy price. I would like to see him safe in the coming battle, and was wondering whether you and your choir would be able to do anything for him? My own Choir are relatively young and inexperienced..."
Stasys paused and seemed to be considering his next words carefully; "I will do what I can for him... Often there is little we can do though... Often the Emperors Peace is the best solution..." He seemed to be holding something back.
Hartek prompted him, and he suddenly spoke again. "I have seen something that disturbs me... When the time comes, if the planet falls, you must take me with you!"
"If the time comes, and if the planet falls, I will take every soul I can cram aboard the Furnace, that I promise!" Hartek paused, "And I can guarantee that if you are at the front of the queue, you will be one of those souls..."
Stasys looked relieved, and spoke more confidently; "When Captain Locke confirmed the presence of Warlord Snotgritz to Fleet Command, they sent out an Astropathic message which I reported to the Governor who assured me that all was in hand. I did however pick up an echo of another message; I do not know the details of the message, as it was somewhat encrypted, however I was able to understand the intent. It seems that the Imperium do not, or cannot, send aid to this planet."
"Thank you for that information Astropath." Hartek said, thoughtfully.
"My pleasure Rogue Trader. I will make myself available to visit your ship tomorrow."
The two men returned to the banqueting hall, as the other guests were starting to leave. Hartek realised he still had a lot of work to do.
++ End of record ++